Winter bird watch and listen

The 2018 Great Backyard Bird Count ended Monday. Tuesday evening we heard our first American Woodcock hurtle across the lowland. Both occurrences are memorable, but maybe not for the same reasons they were in recent years.

Twelve springs ago, I sat on the front steps in shorts and a long-sleeved t-shirt. Not an hour before we discovered the death of a cherished family member–a creative, young, outdoor, salt-of-the-earth. I sat there in the quiet after sunset and heard the first woodcock wings whistle overhead. The date was April 6.

Things are definitely changing. Call it what you like, but the fact is that we are a few weeks away from official spring and Red-Winged Blackbirds are already trilling in the trees above the Blanchard River. The wild mood swings of the 21st Century’s seasons leave us shivering one day and in short sleeves the next. We’ll keep the feeders full for the feathered ones who are flying in to face plunging temperatures.

20180217_075509_002The Boy Scouts that hiked the trails from 8 to 10 a.m. on February 17 used their ears and eyes to see a variety of woodpeckers. Audio recordings helped us identify other birds back at the shelter house. Overall, the birds we documented this year were different than those listed on past walks. We did see some of the same species but not in the quantities of years past.

It was a joy to hear a crow caw above the oxbow. The only corvids we’ve heard in recent years are Blue Jays. West Nile took its toll on crows in the ‘90s and Noughts. However, the likely reason for the missing crows is that someone used them for target practice. Crows have long memories. Saturday was quiet, so the scout we heard may share an ‘all-clear’ with the rest of the flock.

Take a look at what we did see and hear this year, as well as what other people documented: https://ebird.org/gbbc/hotspot/L2709897?yr=cur&m=&rank=mrec

Under the brim

20180107_142631Thrill-seekers here in the Midwest are riding a roller coaster of weather this year. We keep a varied wardrobe at the ready. Some days require five layers across the body to keep fresh water available for chickens, geese, turkeys, pigs, goats and donkeys. Those days require a third arm to cart chopped potatoes, apples, peanuts, and oranges to the wee beasties along with water-filled buckets.

Five days after the quarry froze over and (pictured above) we added our tracks to those of deer, turkeys, rabbits, and squirrels, we wore rain coats and boots as 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit thawed everything to bog-worthy mud. There’s a sock buried in the pasture now, one that fell off my foot while I tried to extricate my boots. That sock can stay there until spring. I’ll need the boots, though.

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Capture of footbridge approach by Katie (courtesy of Hometown Stations)

It got cold enough to snow again, enough to make for a gorgeous Hat Day Hike on January 14. It was maybe a little colder than necessary, truth be told. But the wind was low; even lower in the shelter of the trees on the preserve. Hometown Stations’ Katie Honigford joined us for the first leg from the Seitz Family Pavilion, down the hill to the footbridge.

http://www.hometownstations.com/clip/14049406/hikers-celebrate-national-hat-day

The quarry was no longer hard frozen. During the thaw earlier in the week, the thick surface ice cracked. High water lifted one sheet, overlapping another, leaving the layers to freeze into a sort of uneven fault line. Wildlife tracks padded from one plate to another on their way to open water at Cranberry Run.

20180107_143301Up the hill, Wendy spotted a small herd of whitetailed deer, wondering what they ate. She asked if we feed honeylocust pods to the pigs (the jury is still out.) The pods aren’t a first choice for wildlife, either, and quite a few still hang from trees and litter the ground alongside osage oranges. Unlike last winter, 2017 yielded a bumper crop of black walnuts and acorns–the preferred food of deer and other herbivores.

20180114_141813Naturalist Natalie shared her track ID expertise. She led us in a scat spot challenge, too, up the hill in the back field. The wind reached us there in the open grasslands. We looped back down the hill, around the quarry, and back to hot cocoa, chocolate-cherry and sugar cookies.

The crowning moment was the award ceremony for Most Colorful Hat and Most Unusual Hat. With a dinosaur, a sunflower, snuggly ear flaps and a fluffy snowball in the running, I couldn’t pick just one. Keep in mind that the judge is a softy when you select your headgear for Hat Day Hike 2019.

Speaking up for moles

Winter 2018 Newsletter cover

The article below (how appropriate, considering the subject, don’t you think?) appears in the latest issue of The Quarry Farm Newsletter. Download your copy by clicking on the cover to the right.

Not long ago after autumn rains had softened the baked lawn around Red Fox Cabin, little volcano-shaped mounds erupted here and there, heralding the arrival of moles. Moles don’t alarm me because their burrowing hasn’t seemed to cause lasting damage in the garden. However, convinced that the humans on a nature preserve should be knowledgeable about their fellow inhabitants, I went online to learn more about moles.

Members of the family Talpidae, moles are found in most parts of North America, Europe and Asia. Seven species live in the U.S., the Eastern Mole being common in our region. They are 5 to 7 inches long, larger than shrews and voles. Males are called boars; females are sows; and the young are pups. A group is a labor (perhaps because they are so industrious?). They are carnivores, not herbivores. Their diet is primarily earthworms, grubs, and the occasional mouse, but not our garden plants. Once they have eaten the food in one area, they move on.

Moles are amazingly adapted to a subterranean life. They can distinguish light from dark but not colors. Although their eyesight is dim, their hearing and sense of smell are so acute that they can detect prey through many inches of soil. They have large, powerful, outward-pointing front legs and claws for pushing dirt aside as they “swim” through soft, moist earth. They are able to disappear from rare ventures to the surface in 10 seconds flat, to tunnel 1 foot in 3 minutes and to run through established tunnels at about 80 feet per minute. Their short, velvety fur is non-directional, causing little resistance as they move rapidly through tunnels. (Their soft, dense pelts once supported a thriving moleskin industry.) Moles can survive in their low-oxygen environment underground because they can tolerate the high carbon dioxide levels in the exhaled air they reuse. Their saliva paralyzes prey, which they store, still alive, in underground “larders” for future consumption. Moles can detect, capture, and eat their prey faster than the human eye can follow.

Moles make 2 types of tunnels: feeding runways close to the surface where the molehills pop up and permanent tunnels about a foot or more underground, leading to a nest about 2 feet deep. What might look like the work of many moles can be the product of one busy tunneler.

Moles are solitary and highly territorial, coming together only to mate. Breeding season runs from February to May. From 2 to 5 pups are born after a 1-month gestation, and leave the nest 30 to 45 days later in search of their own territories. Although tunnels may overlap, moles avoid each other and will attack and even fight to the death when they meet.

Many online gardening experts write about moles in terms of their being destructive pests that must be eradicated. They suggest many methods of doing so: poisons; traps that choke, spear, slice or confine for removal; buried repellants like broken glass, razor blades, or thorny branches; or natural, more humane repellants like plantings that smell bad to moles (daffodils, alliums, marigolds, castor beans, etc.), castor oil drenches; and reducing lawn watering that could force moles close to the surface.

However, I lean toward a smaller set of gardening experts represented online who believe that moles are more beneficial than destructive. Rather than taking offense at molehills, they point out that moles improve soil by loosening, aerating and fertilizing, and the cones subside quickly. Any soil that has been lifted off roots can be pressed down again with a foot. Moles receive the blame for plant damage caused by chipmunks, mice and voles, and generally receive little credit for destroying lawn grubs. I myself would rather let moles eat pesky soil-dwelling larvae than chase moles out by spreading harmful poisons to kill the grubs. In the view of one expert, Roger Mercer, “Moles aren’t all bad. In fact they’re 99% good.” As a 15th century saying goes: “Do not make a mountain out of a mole hill.”

—The Gardener at The Quarry Farm

That’s a run wrap, 2017

22228528_10210043864324925_7156834222902347581_nThe sun comes late now in Northwest Oho. On October days like today, heavy wet clouds mute sunshine even more. The youngest roosters crow at the very inkling of sunrise, causing more than a little discussion in the henhouse. Last Saturday began gray and sleepy, too, but it didn’t stay that way. Thanks be for that, because the 7th was the second time we held a Quarry Farm 5K walk/run on Roads 7L and M7.

Just two fat, cold drops hit my forehead as Phil Seitz gave participants the go at 10 a.m. As runners and walkers approached the first downhill, the clouds parted for blue. By the time the first-place finisher came back up that slope, a sweet breeze blew in from the southwest, just enough to dry sweat worked up after 3.2 miles out and back.

20171007_103010There was water for all, thanks to Ted’s Market, and to Paula Harper for making sure it was distributed at the turnaround and to Phyllis Seitz for passing more bottles out at the finish. Bananas and homemade cookies (oatmeal chocolate chip, cranberry white chocolate, molasses, granola—glutened and without) further refreshed as the event winners received their Knott-pottered mugs and medals.

Everyone got a pumpkin, courtesy of Mike Erchenbrecher. Ms. Beatrice is happy that not all of them found a home.22279407_10210034443489410_8078367306305513948_n

Thanks to everyone who participated in The Quarry Farm 5K 2017 onsite. The virtual race is still on and will be into November.

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Andy and Jennifer Seitz did this year’s 5K virtually, in South Carolina.

Top Male: Mark Hahn, with a time of 23:40

Top Female: Rachel Schroeder, with a time of  27:13 (just one—one!—second ahead of the person behind her)

Top Team:

Jeremy Haselman family

Joan Hahn captured the day in her camera and shared the contents. Between the two of us, you all have proof that you trekked 3.2 miles one gorgeous morning in October, for the love of butterflies, Beatrice, and the future of the environment in which they live.

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falling sounds

20170910_165648The old stone quarry has changed a lot over 150 years, from not being there at all to a horse-drawn limestone operation, from spring-fed fishing hole to wetland. Black willows and other water-loving trees and plants grow there now. Wood ducks, wild turkeys, owls, squirrels, tree frogs and herons roost high above the banks. They see you before you even know they are there, falling silent or bursting from the branches in a great show of chatter or feathers.

One tree leaned at the northwest shore for as long as I can remember. My Gran said she used to make a blanket nest for Uncle Keith in its roots while the family fished for bluegill. The tree lived its life, watching two- and four-leggers wear a path below.20170910_172736

20170910_170849 (1)Last weekend the dogs and I found the tree in pieces. The path is strangely open now. Stick-tights thrive in the open sunlight, laying waste to another pair of shorts and leaving the future of my t-shirt in doubt as well. Thankfully, jewelweed grows nearby to stop the burr itch. I wonder if the wild ginger will move to shade further along the bank.

The tree’s fall was a long time coming. Not long after the tree died over a decade ago, its bark weathered away. Dad parked his ATV next to the tree to take photographs of the butterflies, dragonflies and other insects that perched on the smooth trunk. Walking the path sent wildlife running in every direction. The putt-putt of the ATV didn’t. From the driver’s seat, Dad filmed an ichneumon wasp, its long ovipositor extended into a woodpecker’s drill work.

We still have the photos, as well as Dad’s drawings of the wasp. The sketch was one of several used on a poster about beneficial insects. The illustrations are a reminder how nature and art are linked. Here on these 50 acres and beyond invisible parcel lines, the native arts must be nurtured as much as the first grasses and plants that secure this watershed.

Click, look and listen.20170909_183949

 

bird’s eye celebration

20170827_122848 (1)A mile northwest of here as the crow flies, family and friends gathered on the Seitz homestead to remember Miriam Joyce “Gran” Seitz. We made lasting leaf t-shirts and broke (lots of) bread.

A mile southeast of there, Andrew Seitz, sent his drone aloft to capture footage of the 50 acres that his grandmother had a hand in preserving. Click on the bird’s eye view here and take flight over Red Fox Cabin grounds and gardens, the old quarry, nature preserve, then follow Uncle Mike and his car (wave at Andy on your right) south to the farm animal sanctuary.Untitled

Thanks, Cousin, for the lift.

when the trees are sobbing faintly

There was a chair in my grandparents’ house. It was a nondescript stool with a square burgundy seat mounted on four iron legs. It was the kind that you could spin in circles. You could push off with your feet or lay face down across it and turn, walking the circle with fingertips to the floor.

I spent a lot of childhood in that house. One warm summer evening, while Grandpa was in the milkhouse and Gran was making Jersey milkshakes for after chores, I sat on that stool and watched Silent Running, a 1972 environmentally-themed American post-apocalyptic science fiction film starring Bruce Dern. I sobbed as Earth’s last forest traveled out of reach.

As a teen, I sat in Gran’s kitchen and bit my nails while she talked with a caller at the back door. The visitor wanted to buy the property located a mile east of the farm, the 50 acres of woods and stream where Grandpa pastured senior calves in summer. I knew they could use the funds from a sale. I was so afraid that this last forest would be gone.

“No thank you. We don’t wish to sell it,” she said to this offer and to many others.

Carl and Joyce Seitz were my grandparents. My grandfather was a dreamer; a handsome rake who was a lover of books. He was a college graduate, but the farm fell to him while the country was dealing with depression and world war. He would drive a tractor and whistle. My grandmother, a college grad, too, was a stylish beauty who became a farmer’s wife. They raised eight children in that farmhouse. In the warm months, the family sometimes picnicked along the creek that flowed through that 50 acres to the east. In winter, they skated on the old flooded stone quarry there.

For as long as I can remember, that place has been called “The Quarry Farm.”

We lost Grandpa 25 years ago. Today, we lost Gran. Because they both valued the black walnut, maple and oak trees that grow here, the dogtooth violets, mayapples, bloodroot and spring beauties on the ridge and in the floodplain–because they were educators and dreamers–The Quarry Farm is still here.

11845208_10207924019201794_3438920111096809137_oDuring a trip home from university, one of my uncles looked out the kitchen window in time to see Gran hand-feeding a skunk. Two weeks ago, I took Sebastian the Skunk to visit her. Gran would have celebrated 101 years in November, but she was sharp as a tack and delighted in ‘Bastian as well as what we do here.

Chryssy the Cat climbs on my lap now. She shared that farmhouse, the one where we all climbed trees, made mud pies, collected fireflies in a jar, photographed migrating monarchs in the trees, and where our Gran worked art in her kitchen while teaching us to reach for the whole world outside.

http://www.lovefuneralhome.com/notices/Miriam-Seitz