Spring Bird Migration Hike 2021

Tracking American Redstarts in the upland forest on May 15, 2021

Mary Poppins had a bird woman who drew birds in with feed. Cartoonist Gary Larson sketched a before-and-after of Screen 1) pigeons swooping in and leaving Screen 2) a pile of empty rags topped with a hat and a few tuppence.

The Quarry Farm has a bird woman named Deb. She doesn’t need no stinkin’ feed and l’m pretty sure she doesn’t deal in tuppence. She told me last week that she has plenty of patience and enough Advil to watch and wait for the birds to show themselves. As we stood on the curve of Cranberry Run, I asked her what bird was calling above. It was a Baltimore Oriole. I asked for another audio I.D. a couple of minutes later.

“It’s a Baltimore Oriole,” she replied without so much as a sigh. Apparently Deb has enough Advil to deal with hopeless birders like me, too.

Deb introduced The Quarry Farm to someone who speaks bird even better than she does. When David Smith tunes his ears to birdsong in the floodplain, a thrush becomes not just one thrush but both a Swainson’s Thrush and a Wood Thrush. All the yellowish bird shapes silhouetted against the sky become a variety of migrating warbler species.

Thanks to Deb and David, this year’s Spring bird hike checklist is whole lot longer than those of past years. They looked at their previous records and chose the 2021 date. This morning was clear, floodwaters from earlier in the week had shrunk to a couple of vernal pools, and 14 birders walked the trails to record 44 species. Most of these birds are just passing through, but not before Deb could take their picture.

Poetry in motion

Haiku Hike today (5)

April is National Poetry Month and April 17 is International Haiku Day. It seemed fitting, poetic justice even, to observe both with a weekend Haiku Hike in the nature preserve. Eight humans accepted the challenge.

Red Fox Cabin in
The woods above the quarry
Deserted homestead

Spring itself is a muse that inspires with emerging wildflowers, pale green hints of tree leaves and birds inviting each other to call. With honeysuckle hiking staffs and a memo pad between us, we called out and wrote down words and phrases that described what we were experiencing and used them to create haiku.

One-hour walk turned into two (7)

A sycamore watched us from the opposite bank as we descended into the floodplain. Cranberry Run is showing signs if nutrient overload, with early ropes of algae sounding the alarm. The algae will grow in the low warm water, clogging fish, mollusk, crustacean and insect habitat then decaying to leave them starved for oxygen. Algae was added to our streamside words that included “waterfall”, “nest”, “goose”, “rocks”, “shells”, “cardinal”, “sycamore” and “violet”.

Algae in the stream
Face on the sycamore tree
Saturday hike scenes

We are on a hike
Yellow purple violet
Spring rising from soil

“Shed deer fur” was added to our haiku toolbox. What with David’s land bridge guarded by a nesting goose and a gander in the southeast shallows, we trekked north around the quarry wetland through the mammoth log gateway. David’s honeysuckle-rooting maddock leaned against an old honey locust that he calls the Hand Tree.

Deer sheds in the woods
Goose sitting on land bridge nest
Guarded by her mate

Spring beauties, mayapples, buckeye seedlings and violets in three colors are coming to the light in the floodplain that just last year was overgrown with bush honeysuckle. More deer fur lay at the base of a honeysuckle skinned by rubbing antlers (more power to the whitetails!)

Honeysuckle cleared
Deer fur beside shaggy bark
Birds serenading

Up we walked, past the Settler’s Well and the tall grass prairie. A female bluebird gave us a glance and ducked into a woodpile. Fresh piles of dug soil indicated a activity in the ridge burrows downhill from Nature’s Classroom. As we tiptoed past the mama goose, she raised her head but allowed us to move along without incident. Two black-capped chickadees spun in a quarrel. We hiked up and out, ate donut holes and ambled south to visit the farm animal sanctuary.

Time flies with poets (5)

(Thanks to the creative, hiking poets who wrote the haikus shared in this post.)

It Took a Blizzard

Download Winter 2021 Newsletter

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

 

Fall 2020 Newsletter

Click to download the newsletter

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.