Opossum and Snake Go to School

Tyree the Red Rat Snake (also called Corn Snake) and Sean the Virginia Opossum starred at the Wildlife station at the 49th Annual 5th Grade Conservation Tour in September.

Every now and then someone tells us about the Virginia Opossum that has lived under
their porch for years. If there is one thing that we learned while volunteering with
Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and during the years following is that
these individuals are probably not the same Virginia Opossum. While getting to know
educational ambassadors for this fascinating species, we have discovered that they are
nomadic creatures, moving from place to place to eat whatever they find in their path and
sleeping in the most convenient dry spot when they need to. Combined with the fact that
Virginia Opossums only live for two or (maybe, if we’re lucky) three years, the animal that
people see around their porch from year to year is actually a parade of several of North
America’s only member of the marsupial class of mammals.

Did you notice that I said “if we’re lucky”? There are a lot of reasons that it’s a great thing
to have Virginia Opossums around. These free-ranging omnivores consume a varied diet
that includes plant material, grasses and leaves, grains, fruits, carrion, snails, slugs, worms,
insects, rats, mice, snakes, amphibians, eggs, crayfish, and fish. They are nature’s garbage
collectors. We would be up to our eyeballs in offal without these animals coming and
going. We would also be dealing with more biting, disease-transmitting ticks. Research on
captive Virginia Opossums at Illinois’ Eureka College estimates that they eat, on average,
5,500 larval ticks per week. That’s nearly 95% of ticks that cross their path.

The biggest and best reason that we are lucky to have Virginia Opossums is that we just are…lucky,
that is. They have been around for a very long time—at least 70 million years—as one of
Earth’s oldest surviving mammals. Because they eat almost everything, they are disease-resistant. In fact, they will do just about anything to avoid direct contact. To appear
threatening, a Virginia Opossum will first bare its 50 teeth, snap its jaw, hiss, drool, poo
and stand its fur on end to look bigger. If this does not work, the Virginia opossum is
noted for feigning death (passing out) in response to extreme fear.

Here on The Quarry Farm, we are so lucky to have known a few non-releasable Virginia
Opossums. Sean is the current onsite educational ambassador of his kind. Sean was born
without eyes so can’t properly protect himself from predators. He is also agreeable to
human contact, which is why we have a State of Ohio education permit that allows us
to house him and introduce him to people who want to know more about him and the
world around all of us.

A David Update

We haven’t provided a Super Dave update for a while. That doesn’t mean that David Seitz hasn’t been here at least two times a week, clearing invasive plants, combatting poison ivy, engineering and re-engineering bridges and boulder crossings, and mowing paths. Here’s a month’s-worth of catch-up.

Please never give up, David.

June 24

Had a pleasant afternoon yesterday, working at the QF.  Clearing the euonymus patch.  Pushing to the south, opening that area.  It is really old honeysuckle, with a mass of new ones coming up, and really thick.  Also worked through a couple growing multiflora patches.  Trying to save the young trees, while digging the honeysuckle around them, and cutting the grape and poison ivy vines.  Am now far enough south that I’m closer to the turtle pile again, and moving the brush to the turtle pile is easier. 

Saw the big heron landing, as I was walking to the Jeep, but couldn’t get close enough to get a picture. 

June 26

Was watching the weather radar, and it looked like the worst of the front would miss the QF, off to the west, so I came on up for an afternoon of digging honeysuckle.  Got the first shower just around 1300 hrs, but it didn’t last too long, and was cool enough after that.  Less than 1/4 inch.   I could wear the rain coat for the day.  I ran the chain saw to start, and walked around the work area with it, just east of the turtle pile, trimming branches off the big old honeysuckle.  Surprising how the bugs leave the area to get away from the saw.  Continued on south and east, doing a band of honeysuckle 10 meters wide, till I got to the open corridor east of the turtle pile.  Where you can see out east into the swampy area.  Will start moving back north next week, widening the corridor.  Visible progress.  Was tired by 17:30, and called it a day. 

Hauling to just the north side of the turtle pile now, and it is growing.  Lot of mass there.  

Saw several deer come bounding through, but otherwise it was a quiet day for critters. 

June 29

Made a visit today.  Didn’t have anything else going, so came up and did about 5 hours of honeysuckle, vines, and multiflora, widening the turtle-swamp corridor.  Just clearing to the north, back toward the euonymus pile. I kept working till I’d ran out of ice tea.  It was hot and with almost no breeze, and the half gallon thermos was needed. 

Now from the turtle pile, you can easily see east into the swamp area.  Is some heavy thicket there, working north. Big old honeysuckle trunks take a lot of work to dig out. 

The rain last night raised the level at the old bridge dam. Hoping for a bit more rain this week, and less heat. 

July 2

Had a pleasant, cool afternoon at the QF, digging honeysuckle southeast of the euonymus pile.  Working the thicket to the north of the turtle-swamp corridor.  Widening the opening.  Looking much more open now, across the swamp,  as I dig into that thick old growth. 

Got into some poison ivy liana.  Several were so big they looked like trees themselves, except you could see the heavy PI vines and their branches were just off the vine trunks.  Chopped the vines, and will let them go for a while.  May want to cut the dead trees, to stop them just growing again.  So much PI growing in that area, that just clearing the brush means carrying bits of PI is inevitable.   Washed up with goop once home, but have the usual small rashes this morning where I got scratches. 

At the end of the day, I patched some of the leaks on the old bridge dam, to raise the water level a bit there. The level at the dam was up 2 inches while I worked, and still rising.  At 73, still playing in the puddles. 

July 5

Was a bit warm, and no wind down by the quarry.  But I did get in about 3 and a half hours of honeysuckle and vine cutting.  Working north still, and piling on the euonymus pile.

At the end of the day, I worked plugging up the old bridge dam some more.  Water was 3″ below the “hanging rock” when I started,, and after 45 minutes, it was just at the hanging rock.  Not much flow, so changes in level are slower.  Hope we get a shower this week. 

Had the shovel with me, so walked down to the stepping stones and re-spaced them a bit.  Now easier to use.  Dragged the tire and rim up on the bank.  Next visit I’ll bring it up to the road, and put it next to the truck tire.  Is actually a pretty good tire, and holding air. 

There was a little (14″) northern water snake in the creek, north of the dam. 

July 9

Lovely day at the QF.  Started by bringing the “spare tire” up to the fence.  Holding air fine.  Looks like an old Jeep Cherokee rim, with an almost new tire.  Don’t know what you want done with it, but you can always roll it down into the creek during the next flood!
Worked SE of the euonymus pile, back into the thicket.  Is interesting there, as the thicket is now mostly other trees, and the honeysuckle is smaller and only 1/3 of the brush.  Looks better every session, but a lot left to clear. 

Plenty of PI vines to cut, too.  Did that in the last 15 minutes, and then cleaned up my arms when I got to the Jeep. 

The old bridge dam pool was 4″ below the hanging rock when I arrived.  Decided to patch up some of the bigger leaks with small rocks and gravel.  After,  the level in the creek rose about 2″,  over 45 minutes.  Was still rising slowly, when I left.  Creek flow was very small.  Photos attached. 

Saw a 6″ crawdad come down the bank, and play in the edge of the water.  But didn’t go fully into it.  Just wet itself, and then hid by a rock.  Surprised me, again. 

July 14

Was a pleasant day at the QF, except for the bugs.  They are doing well, in the thickets.  Used a bunch of permethrin spray on my clothes, then “Skin-so-soft” for the mosquitos, and finally frequent shots of DEET for the flies, as usual.  But today they were back at me after just a few minutes. 

Working north into the thicket, east of the euonymus pile.  Working the eastern side of the thicket, so not much honeysuckle out in the swamp area.  But a bunch of multiflora, and poison ivy galore.  Nasty.  Cut and hauled about 5 hours. 

Next visit, I will mow the paths around the quarry with the brush cutter.  Just need a trim. 

Thanks for the cookies!

July 19

Didn’t get to the QF until 1400 hrs, and started right in with your Bolens brush cutter.  Spent about 2 and a half hours mowing the paths around the quarry, and down to the stepping stones.  Unfortunately, the Bolens lost a screw off the shaft, and I had to stop mowing for the day.  Brought it back, and will put new screws in and return it.  Small repair. 

Spent the last half hour touching up the old bridge dam, where there were a couple larger leaks.  Water level was 4″ up on the hanging rock, and climbing, and the quarry was at +2″ on the pipe, and draining out into the creek.   Creek water was almost clear, fortunately. 

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.

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.

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.

Quarry Farm Friday starring Buddy, Lucy, Silky and everyone who heard the crinkle of the peanut bag

Here we are on the final day of Quarry Farm Fridays with the Bluffton Public Library. It’s been fun, educational, and a welcome challenge during a year of uncertainty. Thank you to Tanya, Lauren and all who tuned in and joined in the conversation and introduced themselves to The Quarry Farm. Keep reading!

After a virtual summer with us, pack your mask and join us tomorrow in person for Family Day from 1 to 4 p.m.

Quarry Farm Friday with Tyree the Corn Snake

This morning, a very wiggly Tyree the Corn Snake (also known as a Rat Snake) represented his beautiful reptilian kind during the “Quarry Farm Fridays with the Bluffton Public Library”. As Steve notes in the video, Tyree was bred in captivity and was placed here by someone who wished to find him a new home. Tyree does not look like a corn snake that you might find in the wild as he is what is called a “morph“, but he does eat small rodents just as his wild relatives do, making his kind popular with farmers who want to keep mice and rats out of corn cribs.

Read more about snakes and the wonderful role they play in a healthy environment by contacting the Bluffton Public Library and requesting a Quarry Farm Fridays/Summer Reading book bundle.