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.

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.)

Global Big Day 2020

Orchard oriole

May 9 is the biggest day in birding this year. As it’s just 9:30 p.m., it still “is” even though the wind tonight is wild and wooly and no self-respecting owl is going to land in the bowed cottonwood outside the window before midnight.

Female cardinal

I don’t know birds. Rather, I have met a few and we got along well. I could pick them out in a crowd. But I don’t recognize many wild birds by call or even by sight unless they are posing neatly at eye level. For the blessed luck and good of all, Deb Weston is a frequent Quarry Farm flyer who helps us see beyond the cardinals, chickadees and house finches at the bird feeders and into the high canopy for warblers, kinglets and other birds who are presently passing through these parts.

Black-throated blue warbler

Not that there is anything less than splendid about the birds we are most familiar with. Deb shared a stunning shot of a fluorescent-beaked female cardinal gathering nesting material from a clutch of honey locust thorns. On the same day, however, she photographed a black-throated blue warbler perched on a rope of grapevine. Along the way, she digitized an orchard oriole singing it’s heart out and a mourning cloak butterfly. Because butterflies are seemingly as confused by climate change as humans are, they are arriving here or emerging from their winter quarters with no food in sight. When Deb shared the butterfly photo, it was a sight for sore eyes.

Mourning cloak butterfly

Just as nature around the world is reveling in the cleaner air and water that’s a result of human lockdown, wild things are going about their business unimpeded here in the Back 40. On Friday night a small group of Girl Scouts spread out along the trails to earn their trailblazing badges. As they climbed out of the Riley Creek floodplain toward the grass prairie, two large fluffy feathered great horned owl fledglings bobbed in a black walnut at eye level. Their parent murmured a short distance away, waiting for us to move along our earthbound way.

Check out eBird for a complete list of bird species identified here on The Quarry Farm.

No pictures, please

As Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton so eloquently said regarding the present pandemic, we humans are waking up to life. While we blink sleep from our eyes, life goes on around us.

Here on The Quarry Farm, bush honeysuckle whacking is a means to social-distance ourselves during Ohio’s StayHome proclamation. At this pace we may see the forest for the invasive trees this year. As David Seitz works his way south from the old stone quarry, Paul Nusbaum is clearing A new walking trail to skirt the ancient homestead well, Riley Creek, and the Bottom’s rich vernal pools. That area is a quiet shelter for migrating songbirds. As I took out my own pandemic fear and frustration on bush honeysuckle and a [gasp/horror/curses] privet I found at the northern-most point of the nature preserve, a Black and White Warbler eyeballed me from the top of a small maple. My camera and phone sat safely at home on the kitchen counter so the only image I can share with you is a description of a dainty bird, striped black and white from beak to tail.

The aforementioned lack of camera is the lead in to the story that I saved for sharing on a rainy day. Thunder rolls outside today and heavy downpours turning clear Cranberry Run the creamy brown of the surrounding fields, so here goes. I present to you a tale filled with suspense, partial nudity and a happy ending.

It was a dark and cloudy Wednesday night. Somewhere in the darkness, a domestic fowl uttered a strangled cry. Fergus the Tree Walker Coonhound scrambled to his feet, baying all the way down the stairs. I stumbled along behind, forgetting my eyeglasses on the nightstand. Fergus blew out the front door and down the driveway. Quinn Fox wove through the hound’s floppy Muppet feet, emerging through the tangle with Gerald the Rooster in her jaws. I screeched at her to “drop it!” She did! Fearing the worst, I carried a limp Gerald into the house. He had a heartbeat, so I left him in the bathroom basin and ran back outside, trading Fergus for Cady the Pitbull because Cady is quieter at 2:00 a.m. than an excited hound dog. My Steven was now in the fray, tracking Quinn with the flashlight app on his cell.

I was in a shortie. Steve wore a t-shirt and boxers. Our shoes and my eyesight were in the house. It was maybe 40 degrees on March 25 in Northwest Ohio.

We took turns going back inside to grab shoes, jackets and cheddar cheese. After much fun and games on Quinn’s part, the little red streak took refuge under the front porch. Steve shown light under the deck while I crawled under, cheese in my cold little fist. Since Quinn likes cheese and there is no soft pillow under the porch, she was ripe for reclamation. Once she was back in the warm house with Fergus and Cady, Steve spotted a wet mound of gray fur at the point of the Fergus/Quinn collision. A young Virginia Opossum lay there. Its tongue lolled on the grass and its legs curled in little clawed fists. We stared at it in the beam of the cell light, surmising that the marsupial had probably climbed up in the roosting box shared by Gerald and Arthur and startled Gerald into mad flight. While we watched, the dead creature blinked. Steve carried him/her down the hill and into the woods.

As far as we know, the opossum is fine. Quinn, Fergus and Cady are fine. Gerald was standing in the basin by 2:10 and is fine. That bird has the nine lives of a cat. We figure that, between picking fights with Arthur, predator encounters and a past life as a cockfighting rooster, he’s depleted his store of vivacity by at least half. Steve and I, however, ran through any amount of dignity we ever had long ago.

Savoring signs of life

DSC_0748Earlier this month, friend Kathy Doty taught me how to spot the difference between male and female Monarch butterflies. Visually, it’s really not that different than humans. I kept hearing that little girl who was a YouTube sensation several years back, her sing-song show-and-tell voice explaining to her classmates, “Boys have theses, see.” I’ve sat through a lot of PowerPoint presentations about Monarchs. I know the right way to hold them as you apply a tracking tag prior to release. But no one has every told me who has what. Kathy also displayed a young Praying Mantis and a viable Swallowtail chrysalis, anchored in place by one tiny gossamer lasso of swallowtail thread. She spotted both eggs and caterpillars in the Red Fox Cabin gardens. The sightings never cease to thrill.

Several days later, a steady stream of visitors to Summer 2019 Family Day watched monarchs, bumblebees and more dragonflies than I have seen since the June 2012 floor wax discharge decimated the variety of dragonfly nymphs one could sample in Riley Creek. It was hot, hot, hot in the sun. Steady breeze and ice water kept those of us anchored to the ground cool enough to take pleasure in flighted creatures who have the wherewithal to catch thermals.

With double-digit degrees less outside, Deb Weston walked the trails with her Debbie and a camera on Thursday. They spotted an Ebony Jewelwing damselfly, a female Baltimore Oriole, a Painted Lady butterfly, a Monarch, and two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, birds I haven’t seen since I picked wild raspberries along the cut-off oxbow to sell at Andy’s IGA in Pandora.

I could wax on. How about I share Deb’s photos instead?

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To everything, there is

At the start of the 2000s, after we breached the wave of Y2K and its potential mania, we weathered another onslaught. Well, we did, but not everyone made it through the ride. The farm animal sanctuary was not even a thought and wildlife rehabilitation training was still a phone call away. Instead, we planted 100 trees. Because the trees were small and the ground was traditionally a farmfield, a passerby in his cups mowed all but three of the grassed-in trees down. So we let the turf grow, transplanting native grasses like big bluestem, little bluestem, and switchgrass, all grown and gifted to us by Dennis Seitz. These, as well as wild asters and milkweeds, were slowly outpacing invasives like Canadian thistle. In the meantime, flocks of goldfinches cheered among the purple tops.

The pace wasn’t fast enough. One day, a township trustee arrived with a brushhog. He mowed through the thistle, Steve ran ahead of the blades. Praying mantis, adults and nymphs, clung to his hair, shirt and forearms. He stood in front of the driver, held his mantis-covered-arms aloft, saying, “See this? This is what you are doing.” With one tree still standing, insects and songbirds scattered, the tractor left. One neighbor asked us how this could have happened, here in America. It can and it did and we all lost.

_MG_9249That was 20 years ago. “Drift Zone” signs populate the neighboring fields. Local nurseries carrying various types of milkweed—and people are planting them. Several neighbors grow almost-acres of native grasses, wildflowers and Canada thistles poke their spiky heads up here and there as the natives are allowed to reestablish. Even so, anger still festers in me, 20 years after we were made to stand by and suffer a fool’s errand. Few mantids have turned their mystic heads my way since then and the goldfinches are still shy. IMG_1543

Today, my mother sent me two photos. A garter snake was soaking up rays on a weeping spruce at Red Fox Cabin this morning. It’s safe on its sunny bed, free from hungry chickens at our end and away from the road’s racing vehicles. The other photo is a mantis nymph, its image captured by Beth Scheckelhoff of Ohio State University’s Putnam County Extension. She saw a lot of mantid nymphs in the gardens above Cranberry Run. This makes me happy—even feel forgiving—though I’ll never forget.

seeking avian life forms

20190216_083800.jpgThis weekend is the 22nd Annual Great Backyard Bird Count, four days when, world-wide, people peer through binoculars and add apps to their phones (speaking from personal habit) to help them identify what birds are at their feeders or watering troughs from February 16-18, 2019. I can hear European starlings above our bathroom ceiling, so we started the count right off with that species. We really need to fix the cover on that vent.

20190216_093355Saturday morning, two Debs, one Maya, one Terry and one Mandy joined in The Quarry Farm count. At 8:08 a.m. we headed across the footbridge to listen and look for what birds would venture out with us into the cold. Not many, as it turned out. Red-bellied woodpeckers hammered in the north along Riley Creek. Horned larks chimed in the field. White-breasted nuthatches scolded. We saw or heard a downy woodpecker, two goldfinches, robins, a male cardinal, bluejays and two Canada geese.20190216_093733

The air was heavy with impending snow. We kept out toes moving and warm by exploring for nonfeathered treasures. There were tracks frozen in the floodplain, reminders of floodwaters that covered it earlier in the week. Fungi bracketed trees and downed limbs. Puddles were flash-frozen in rings as waters receded. Mandy spotted a cocoon of some kind that we have yet to identify but is probably this. And Laura was thrilled to see that the Indian hemp, also commonly called dogbane, has spread in the back 10.20190216_100117.jpg

The promised snow falls in icy pellets. A crow flew over this morning, calling as he scouted, his caws echoing in the cold sky. There isn’t much movement otherwise. I sit at the sewing machine, securing goat coat straps in place. S’more ditched his yesterday during an hour or two of warm sun. Now he is piled under straw in Sophie’s barn. From my perch at the sewing machine, I can watch for birds. The winter is frighteningly in need of visitors.

We’ll listen for owls tonight. Until then, the hot chocolate and tea are warm and plentiful for watching whomever flies.20190216_093228

ill wind

20190130_170858A dozen squash and a bag of apples are all that remain from the December windfall from Hoehns Orchard. The fruits flash froze in the bed of the Ranger yesterday. They’ll thaw this weekend as temperatures jump from this morning’s -8°F  to 52°F on Monday. Buddy and Lucy will love their sweet squashy pudding. Tonight, the geese will scavenge for apple bits after the pigs shred the applesicles.

Everyone made it through Wednesday’s -40°F windchill, at least everyone in the farm animal sanctuary. There were tracks leading up the path from Cranberry Run, so some of the wild things are beginning to emerge from the deep freeze. Here’s hoping some of the bush honeysuckle in the hedgerow weren’t so lucky.

We were—lucky, that is. A friend in Minneapolis says it’s still -21°F there on Day 2 of Invasion Polar Vortex, windchill notwithstanding. Mosaic the Llama’s dreamy eyelashes are dripping rather than hanging and she is out of the barn and staring at the mass of singing starlings that shelter in the pines.

We were lucky, counting all toes, fingers, nostrils and ears as healthy and whole. We weathered this bout with fractured weather patterns. As we hung blankets in the archway of Nemo’s and Carlton’s shed, packed straw into the barns and latched the doors Tuesday night, it wasn’t the plunging temps and 30 mph wind that scared us. It was what the wind was packing.

 

20190130_090253For 36-hours, the wind bore a topsoil blown from tilled fields to the west, a haze so thick that it coated trees, cars and ground with a gray film. Rays of Wednesday sunrise shown amber. Even with wind chill warnings outside, our boots left muddy tracks in the foyer. I wiped brown frost from the skin left exposed by my face mask. Snow and rain are predicted to wash down hill and stream this weekend.

Friend Kim called the film of topsoil on my car “cancer dirt”. She wasn’t being funny. Neither am I when I say I think I know what ash from nuclear fallout looks like. Why do we insist on taking everyone else with us?

20190130_162305