A stroll about the Red Fox

Today is promising to be a hot one, with temperatures in the 90s and a heat index climbing higher. A hawk just flew over with a blackbird in hot pursuit of the raptor’s red tail. Even the birds are feeling it.

Dewy Borage

The plants, however, are loving the warmth and light after the heavy rain of last week. They’re positively dripping with joy. Humid fog sits over the soybeans to the west of The Quarry Farm, but the nature preserve is rich, deep, rainforest green, with dabs of brilliance. Seems the best kind of morning to inspect those colors more closely.

The gardens at Red Fox Cabin are blooming. The whites, pale yellows, pinks, and violets of spring are gone, replaced by a full spectrum in every shape and size. Bumblebees navigate the lavender and bee balm, hovering just long enough that I think I can get a picture. When I bring up the photo, I see they’ve led me on.

Bee Balm

The pollinators are back this year. Populations are smaller, but they are here. The big fuzzy bumblers share space with other wild bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, and moths.

And the dragonflies are glorious.

It’s a little too early in the day for them to be up and about, but Steve is seeing species that he’s not familiar with. The books and apps are out and he is getting to know new odonata in 2017. Storms are in the forecast for later this week. He will be on the front porch watching the dragonflies surge before the storm, hunting for insects ahead of the rain.

The two pipevine trellises are heavy with green. Two days ago, The Quarry Farm Gardener noticed tiny black crawlies on the southwest tower. They grew, expanding with the humidity and tasty leaves, as pipevine swallowtail caterpillars do. We missed them during the past two years. The cropduster that flies low of late is a concern. The news is that gypsy moth treatments are underway.

Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillars

The raingarden is doing a fine job drawing water away from the cabin and housing leopard frogs.A wheelbarrow supports its own garden, spilling a fragrant shower that doesn’t quite make landfall.

Common Mullein

Mullein reaches for the sky here and there. The flannel leaves of common mullein were used as lamp wicks–since the time of the Romans for torches–as well as toilet paper. The leaves were once placed inside of shoes to provided both warmth and softness. Mullein isn’t native to North America, but local insects are attracted by the flower’s honey-like scent.

I’ve looped back to my car; my ride to pay the piper. If you balance a coffee in one hand, it’s possible to snap a photo. This last mid-week catch: coneflowers above the nature preserve, leaning toward the place I want to be.

Water words and tiger tales

beetle larvaOver 100 years ago, there was no quarry here on these 50 acres. Cranberry Run was a meandering trickle. When the digs and blasts began, this place’s namesake was one of several in these parts. Over time, most closed or consolidated operation. Springs kept the abandoned holes filled. People and animals fished them. Picnics were eaten on the shores.

Before his body failed him, my dad spent a lot of sticky hot summer time rebuilding a stone wall between our quarry and Cranberry Run. This happened nearly 50 years after human hands and earth movers stretched, straightened, and deepened the natural engineering of the stream to push water through various townships to others downstream. The quarry was opened to heavy sediment loads forced through via the Run. Over the course of 50 years, the quarry depth went from 20 feet at its deepest point to no more than four of water and muck.The Quarry

As soil, grasses, and trees further rooted the wall, the quarry began to change again. Aquatic plants, their seeds held for generations in the floodplain, took root beneath the water’s surface. Some are rare, others not so much, but most are native and blooming to attract pollinators and migrating birds to shelter among the green.

unnamed.jpgTwo weeks ago, heavy rain flooded the quarry. Kayakers paddled through the preserve, weaving through trees well above the Run’s banks. The footbridge floated, held fast by heavy chains, thanks to Engineer Dave Seitz’ design. After the flood wave crested and rolled north toward the Blanchard, I kayaked under it and on to Riley Creek, past the 20170513_141555absent M-6 bridge, Putnam Aggregates and the Riley Creek United Methodist Church. The banks were surprisingly clear of debris, with one exception on the east bank in Riley Township. There, an old car follows a wave of cans and other discards toward a detonated washing machine on the bank below.

About a month ago, the water in the quarry was crystal-clear. You could lean out over the bank and watch spring life move in and out of the sprouting aquatic plants, except for those areas that were wriggling black with toadpoles. You could reach in and pick up handfuls of the fry if you wanted to. Steve used a dip net instead, keeping several in a five-gallon bucket to show to visitors at Lima’s Faurot Park Earth Day celebration.

20170502_201309_LLSThe week before that, Steve came back to the house with a bucket of fairy shrimp in quarry water. I love to watch these tool in healthy circles, especially since their presence tells me that the wetlands are doing such fine work sponging sediment and impurities in the floodplain. The pools did such a great job that the bucket also contained a salamander larva with waving spaniel-ear-gills, and a predaceous diving beetle nymph.

My dad would have been so excited to see the contents of this bucket. His artist’s eye would note the analogous brown and gold patterns of the amphibian skins and the scarlet jaws of the young beetle. The latter is nicknamed “water tiger.” You don’t have to spend much time to understand why. Steve said he started up the path between the quarry and home with 10 toadpoles. At the door, there were seven left.

After lots of people oo-ed and ah-ed over the catch, we released them. Though many were surely washed away, we know that quite a few are still there. Grown frogs and toads sing through the nights. Great blue herons, raccoons, and ducks feast in the shallows while perched raptors wait for their one false move.

 

Avian ‘found art’

I recently spotted a real-standout bird’s nest along my running route. The clever creature had gathered straws, strings and six-pack rings to construct a work of ‘found art.’ The piece was truly spectacular.

Trouble is, that bird and any of its nestlings are at terrible risk of falling prey to the building materials. By now, most people are aware that six-pack rings, fishing line and other plastics should be snipped and discarded properly. But most don’t realize that yarn and any type of string, twine and even human hair can easily become tangled around birds’ legs, wings and neck and cut off circulation, causing serious injury or even death. Many baby songbirds lose limbs (or worse) due to string-like materials in a nest.

If you wish to offer nesting materials in your yard, pre-made nesting material is available for purchase. You can also use the following natural alternatives.

Small Yard Debris: Pine straw, wheat straw, and tiny twigs make good bird nest building materials.

Grass Clippings: One of the most common nesting materials, grass clippings can be gathered into balls or simply left mulched into your lawn.

Animal Hair: If you brush or clip your animals, save the fur! It makes a wonderfully soft lining for bird nests. Here on The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve & Conservation Farm, we find nests snuggly lined with donkey and goat fur, shed by the residents of the farm animal sanctuary. Just don’t use any hair or fur that’s been treated with flea dips or insect repellents.

Plants and Seeds: Fluffy seeds and plants, such as cattails, make good bird nesting materials. Please make sure the seeds are those of plants native to this area.

Cloth Batting: Wool or cotton batting cut into 3”- 6” strips makes good nesting material.

Feathers: Providing feathers for nesting material is a great way to recycle old down pillows. Better yet, keep backyard chickens.

Moss: Sphagnum or Spanish moss make great bird nesting material (make sure it’s not been chemically treated).

Happy Holidays

Many consider the ideal Christmas morning to be filled with snow and soft lights. I myself would love another three to four feet of snow, as I love winter. We have a few sheets of snow interspersed with cold, sodden earth. Here on the Quarry Farm, we have a rather muddy Christmas.

The pigs started knocking on the door at 6 am. The donkeys brayed when the lights flipped on. The goats burped softly and shuffled around in their coats. The chickens quietly werked in the predawn, nestled in their coop.

img_0059Everyone has been fed and the mid-afternoon snooze is setting in. Lolly and Beretta are curled up in their respective beds, slightly snoring, quiet after I tried to get them to wear bows (I thought Lolly was going to eat it). Even Jimmy is quiet, stretched luxuriously in his hammock, waiting for me to clean his cage.

The wind is coming quietly from the east, and I hope we have a nice winter coming in. Some snow, with mild temperatures would be nice. But for today, we’re all quiet and enjoying a nice holiday.

I plan on eating a nice meal with the family soon. Whatever you wish to celebrate today, if it be just that there is a new day, we all wish you well.

Warning: Harsh reality ahead

Funny story. A man crafted a pretty little flyer that he thumb-tacked to the check-out bulletin board at the neighborhood market. The ad simply stated that he liked to tinker with old lawnmowers and was looking for a new project. The posting included his address and phone number.

He came home from the grocery store and found a half-acre-full of lawnmowers in various conditions on his half-acre of land.

This is why we do not share our address prominently on this website, on Facebook or any other easy-to-locate location.

BobThis is Bob. Bob is happy. Carlton is standing behind him, as are several hens of various histories and ages. They are happy, too. When Bob came here, he was not happy. He was recovering from abandonment, starvation, frostbite and likely a whole other host of horrors. Some of those chickens came with him. They survived because they found shelter from the coldest winter of the decade under the frozen carcasses of their flock. Carlton was abandoned by someone anonymous. We’re betting that they found out piglets–even pot-bellied minis–don’t fit in the palm of your hand forever.

If our address was easy to find, we would have more Bobs, Carltons and chickens that we could care for, no matter how hard we try. By no means whatsoever do I mean to suggest that Bob, Carlton, Beatrice, Lucy, Buddy, Freckles or any of the animals here on the farm animal sanctuary on the same level as a lawnmower. Lawnmowers we can load up, take to recycling and use the recycling funds to pay for food and medical care for the animals. These animals, however, trust us to provide for them for the rest of their lives, lives that we pledge to be existences of peace and contentment. That’s the least we can do to make up for what some of our fellow human beings have put them through.

So…

If you call us and we don’t answer right away, please leave a message. We will return your call as soon as everyone is tucked in or a scheduled program is completed. If you have an animal that you cannot care for, we will refer you to someone who can if we are unable. That is part of our mission.5K logo

Better yet…
Join us on October 1 for the first ever Quarry Farm 5K (registration info is listed under Events) and be part of that mission! You’ll walk, run or bicycle right past the gate.