Finding the bees’ knees

DSC_1009This is a year of dragons. Saddlebags, skimmers, twelve-spots and white tales dive-bomb the farm animal sanctuary yard, plucking mosquitoes before they latch onto exposed skin. It has been stupid-hot of late, enough to keep the dragonflies under cover at mid-day. But in the evening, their wings shimmer position for hovering and steep dives.

Rain came today. No dot-com could have predicted this more accurately that the four bats that wheeled over the paddock at dusk; three more than we usually see when the chickens, turkeys and ducks are tucked in for the hungry night. Tonight, leopard frogs dive into Nemo’s mud wallow, skitter across the surface and churn the depths.

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In Leipsic, making 59 bush honeysuckle hiking staffs with Boy Scouts

The Putnam County Master Gardeners were onsite before the rains came. I was across county, talking folklore to Boy Scouts and helping them to make hiking staff of plants that shouldn’t be in Ohio. The Master Gardeners were here, tending to plants that should be, in their pollinator garden on the chimney-facing side of Red Fox Cabin. They set fencing as a deterrent to wild yearlings in search of fresh greens among the yellowing grass. Bee balm, indigo, milkweeds and Joe Pye weed have grown tall enough to attract them. More importantly, they call to pollinators.

As Joe Kinsella wrote, “If you build it, they will come.” Maybe ‘build’ isn’t the correct word. But since Red Doud and Joe Hovest moved large boulders into place, Phyllis Macke ID’d plants with ingenious signs she created and everyone moved soil, mulch and a purple tricycle in place, let’s go with that. In any case, they came: swallowtail, fritillary, monarch and skipper butterflies; honey, bumble and other wild bees moved from blossom to blossom. A hummingbird moth whirred in, unfurling and curling its proboscis as a nectar drinking straw. A widow skimmer dragonfly paused on the plant next door, pausing just long enough for me to click another blurry photo.

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With the scent of sun-warmed monarda in my nose, I picked a handful of mint on my way home and boiled it up with three bags of Earl Grey. The last of the chilled brew is at my elbow now. The mint is in bloom and off limits, waiting for whomever can make their way across the desert to save us all.

‘Further up and further in’

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Look overhead, above Paul Nusbaum’s bridge over the quarry channel. Do you see who’s watching?

Summer 2018 Newsletter CoverThe humidity today says it is summer in Northwest Ohio. The calendar says it’s spring. We’ll go with the weather and release the Summer 2018 issue of The Quarry Farm Newsletter. Click on the cover to the right for your copy.

There is only so much information that can be included in an 11″ x 17″ newsletter. There For instance, on the first weekend in May, we drove across five states to Save-a-Fox Rescue to meet a potential education ambassador . Google Maps advised us to travel south to U.S. Route 30 to begin our Northwest journey. That didn’t make sense, so we took SR 15 North. We saw flat land bisected by rivers flowing into unglaciated parts of Williams County.

Westbound Indiana was a I-80/90. Enough said.

I slept through most of Illinois, but Steve regaled quotes from billboards, including one promising “All the Liquor…None of the Clothes.” We stopped at the Belvidere Oasis, a six-lane-spanning travel plaza on a stretch of 1-90 dubbed the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway, east of Rockford Mile Marker 54.5. We planned on buying bagels. Instead, we pounced on a food kiosk selling cucumber salads and falafel. Aside from the usual food chains, Mom-and-Pop vendors were hawking jewelry and fudge. 

Wisconsin is a very tall state. We drove its full height. Motorists can enjoy scenic wetlands, glacier-carved sandstone formations interspersed with theme parks, yellow-and-black “Beef Jerky Outlet” billboards and signs advertising a ‘gentlemen’s club’ called “Cruisin’ Chubbies.”

Interstate 90 connecting the La CrosseWisconsin area to rural Winona CountyMinnesota is breathtaking. We added another jerky outlet sign to our list when, suddenly, the Mississippi River stretched before us, banked rocky cliffs and green. Google Maps flashed an emoji of the late musical artist Prince to tell that we had arrived in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes (and Purple Rain.)

20180531_200157My ears popped as we climbed out of the Mississippi River Valley and rolled through greening hills and fjords toward Rice County, Minnesota. On the evening of May 4, we arrived at the place where silver, red, and roan foxes roost in trees rather than in the cramped, fur farm cages. Alexis at Save-a-Fox describes foxes as “those mythical creatures you read about in middle school.” We are learning just so from Quinn, the vulpine ambassador who made the return trek to Ohio.

Smelling spring with new fingers

20180509_095537This land that we two-leggers call The Quarry Farm has been in family hands for a long time. I remember walking up the trail toward what we still call ‘The Cut-Off.’ My Uncle Carl led the way. He was a teenager and I was pretty sure he would get us home. This wetland, an oxbow severed by 1950s-era engineers from the free-flow of Cranberry Run, was the outer reaches for me. I had faith that teenage Carl, a grown-up to grade-school me, would know the way back.

20180509_100344Around the time that Carl and I took that walk, I decided that my mission was to preserve this 50-acre island. I know how lucky I am to have this memory. After adult years of looking for my purpose in life, I realized that my small self was right.  I came to my senses in time for my child to create her own memories among the native flowers, trees and cricket frogs that sing of wild spring here. Luckily, My Steven agreed.

There are lots of reasons why we do what we do here. In my mind, the best thing we can do is give people of all ages the opportunity to connect with the natural world of Northwest Ohio as we do every day. If you’ve seen a baby dragonfly with your own eyes, touched its budding wings as an emerald-winged adult snatches a whining mosquito from the air around you, you’ll remember that and want to see it again and again, here and in your own backyard.

20180509_094706Last week, we introduced The Quarry Farm to children, teachers and parents from Patrick Henry Preschool. On May 9 and 10, they made lasting leaf shirts from the foliage of blooming buckeye trees. They took a “Smelling Hike” of Red Fox Cabin gardens to enjoy the scents of mint, costmary, and viburnum. They saw the inhabitants of Cranberry Run and were greeted at the farm animal sanctuary gate by pigs Nemo, Carlton and Beatrice.

Before they did any of these things, the visitors met Tyree the Cornsnake. Small fingers brushed his smooth skin, described as “ripply” by one boy. Never would have thought of that myself, but that young man is spot-on. Teacher Cheryl, a self-professed ophiophobia, stretched out her own hand and touched the snake’s red-orange scales. She’d never touched a snake before.

That’s what we’re talking about.20180510_091636

Bridging confused seasons

This week’s April morning snow reminded me that the mucks will likely occupy a place on the door mat beside the sandals, probably for a double-digit number of days. The garden hose thawed in 80°F last Friday. Resting water froze again on Saturday. There is a groundhog somewhere who predicts eight more weeks of hauling water buckets.

We grouse about layers of sweaters, vests and coats, socks and boots. We never know what to tell visitors to wear, so we just tell them, “Come prepared for the weather. There will be hot chocolate or lemonade.” Pigs Nemo and Carlton have done their winter worst, rooting three acres of soil so that the pastures resemble a mine field. If this didn’t happen every year, we would despair of the unsightly furrowed ground.

“We’ll never be able to fix this,” commented Steve on the first spring with multiple pigs in the farm animal sanctuary. We stood on the front porch and despaired over upturned soil, bare of green grass and treacherous for foot traffic. A month later, after the first mow, the grass was green and patches of Grandpa Seitz’s bird’s-foot trefoil bloomed on the hillside. The garden was remarkably free of Japanese beetles. We realized that the pigs had feasted on more grubs than shoots. Now we grin and bear the brown ruts, knowing that there will be more than enough thick grass to cut when shorts-and-T weather settles in.

So…this snow. The sky is clear and the forecast predicts a high of 55°F. The barn and shed roofs are beginning to drip. The chickens and turkeys dodge the drops as they breakfast and the geese revel in widening puddles.

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20180419_072542In the cold shadows of the nature preserve, the colors are still blue, gray and purple. I cross the footbridge, going where a raccoon has recently come. Blue flag shoots and water grasses rise from wetlands, brilliant green contrasts to the white that coats the trees on the high bank and the land bridge between the old stone quarry and Cranberry Run. Thanks to Paul Nusbaum, the land bridge is clear of bush honeysuckle. This will provide a living lab for school groups to discover the differences between wetlands and running streams.

Here comes the sun. I’m off to work, away…and it’s alright.20180419_072730

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.

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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.