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

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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.

A masked advance

Cedar Waxwing

For a warm minute, Northwest Ohioans were treated to spectacular fall color, said to be a result of a wet spring and dry fall. A droughty spring can cause tree branches to seal themselves off from new leaves. They’ll drop before they’ve had a chance to develop an autumn foliate aurora.

The minute has all but passed. The ghost of toilet-paper streamers haunt leafless branches. Who is going to chuck those golden streamers over the tallest tree after waiting in line to buy even the roughest roll of sandpaper not six months ago?

Golden Crowned Kinglet

Brown Creeper

Moth in Leaves

But there are other signs of autumn ticking off the clock. Last week’s storms rained newly-shorn corn husks. The cottonwoods along Cranberry Run are decorated with turkey vultures. They spread their six-foot wingspans and lift off for sunnier skies when I try to take a photo. Winter birds skitter up and down bare trees and Eastern Fox Squirrels fatten themselves on Osage Oranges. Moths blend with browning leaves on the woodland floor. The latter doesn’t bode well for wild winter stores since the green fruits are the rodents’ least favorite food source. Bring forth your tired, your weary, your fallen acorns because the wild ones are going to need them.

Eastern Fox Squirrel

There is running water in Cranberry Run. After last week’s rain, small puddles became a smooth pool of stained glass in shades of leaf-litter orange, red and yellow. After work, I walked down to where my grandpa once forded the stream and was sad to see that the stream wasn’t flowing. But it was, trickling over the most elevated riffle. What I didn’t realize was that Riley Creek was rising with heavy rains from the south, so fast that the Run’s current was flowing upstream.

Everything is flowing backwards these days. We can’t civilly agree (or disagree) on what to display in our yards, on our bumpers, or what to wear (or not.) What we can agree on is that cold air makes wearing a face mask easier. As Saturday evening’s snow fell fast and thick enough to leave a visible dusting, I didn’t mind so much when Quinn the Fox stashed her toys under my blanketed body, effectively tucking me in for a chilly night.

(Thanks to Deb Weston for sharing her photos. Her subjects cooperated. Maybe it’s because she is such an avid birder here on The Quarry Farm that she’s become one of the flock.)

Fall 2020 Newsletter

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Summer 2020 didn’t go according to plan, but then none of this year has been business-as-usual. This very warm season was active, nonetheless, with virtual visits with the Bluffton Public Library, small group outings on the trails, and new volunteers who helped clear invasive bush honeysuckle.
August 7 was the final Facebook Live segment in the “Quarry Farm Fridays with the Bluffton Public Library”. Donkeys Buddy, Lucy and Silkie were the featured stars, although S’more the Nigerian Dwarf Goat and Chablis the Llama made cameo appearances.

The Quarry Farm is currently Putnam County’s #1 birding hotspot on eBird.org, thanks to Deb Weston and David Smith. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology created eBird in 2002 as an online database of bird observations providing scientists, researchers and amateur naturalists with real-time data about bird distribution and abundance. When Deb wasn’t logging spring and summer miles on the trails to document and photograph most of the 201 species of birds currently on our hotspot list, she was leading other avian enthusiasts here. View some of Deb’s bird photos in this newsletter and on our website. You can also join Deb for birding on the trails if you register for the “October Big Day” scheduled for October 17.

Until the latter part of the 19th century, most of Putnam County was part of the Great Black Swamp in what is now the physiographic region known as the Huron-Erie Lake Plains. But the southeast portion of the county was a slightly higher area with drier prairies as well as wetlands. This area, now called the Central Lowland, is where The Quarry Farm is located. While the 50-acres probably included upland and lowland forest, floodplain and wetland, grassland may have been here, too. For this reason, the 10-acre grassland is undergoing substantial maintenance this year, thanks to Brad Brooks. Brad began by brush-hogging the area that had been overrun by invasive grass species. He is currently clearing small trees and shrubs, leaving native oaks, sycamores and ash in certain areas to provide shade and shelter to wildlife.

The August 8 Family Day included a number of stations where groups learned about trees, insects, herbs, and the farm animal sanctuary. Rick Carles, acting president of the Blanchard River Archeology Club, was on hand outside the c.1853 Red Fox Cabin to demonstrate pioneer and Native American skills. The event attracted local media who aired and printed interviews with board members and Family Day visitors.

Although we are not able to offer hands-ons projects this year, we are able to lead small groups on hikes in the nature preserve and tours of the farm animal sanctuary. If you wish to schedule an outdoor visit onsite during Fall 2020, send an email to thequarryfarm@gmail.com with a details about your group, including number of people, ages, and possible dates and times.