Things are greening on The Quarry Farm now. Dutchman’s Breeches have bloomed and gone above the “Cut-off” oxbow, shaded by the oldest trees on the nature preserve. The farm animal sanctuary residents trim new leaves and grass while outside the fences the grass grows and grows. Much of this spring so far has been wet and cool to cold. Arthur the Rooster stands in an alcove of the front porch, glowering at the wall with his spiking wet ruff raised around his feathered ears. On rare sunny days the roosters crow and the pigs stretch out, bellies hitched high for maximum exposure to warmth.
The floodplain has been awash with the merging of Cranberry Creek and Riley Creek as floodwaters ebb and flow, from April now into May. The footbridge, so beautifully engineered by David Seitz, is still with us; the longest-surviving passage from west to east banks over the Cranberry. David watches it rise and fall from internet feeds, using stretched cords to monitor where it settles when the water drops. A new bridge project is underway several meters upstream of the old one. David is at the helm; more news on this to come. But I’ll take this May moment to catch up on April.
Before April showers changed from gentle mist to a series of gully washers, Girl Scout Service Unit 221 from Ada and Kenton spent the better part of April 13 cutting bush honeysuckle. They needed 70 potential hiking staffs to carry home. They tackled the ridge and bottom on the east edge of the stone quarry wetland, lopping their way through one of the densest growths of this confounded invasive woody plant. As well as making way for shagbark hickory and swamp white oak seedlings, they helped us release a woodduck drake who had flown down the Red Fox Cabin chimney.
The following Friday was rainy and windy—just the perfect sort of day for Sophie the Potbelly to go for a car ride. She didn’t think much of the idea; she never does until she is in the back seat and the car is rolling. Sophie, Tyree the Cornsnake and Gerald the Rooster were invited to attend Spring Break Day Camp at the Girl Scout Camp in Lima. Once there, I parked outside Rose Marie Duffy Lodge, leaving the car door open while I carried Tyree and Gerald into the conference room. I heard laughter behind me and turned to see Sophie marching up the Lodge steps, ready to greet her newest fans and to accept accolades as only stars of her caliber receive. She hoovered up the spoils of a snack break while I shared why we do what we do here with those that share this Back 50.
Thanks to Katlin Shuherk for sharing her photos.
Tonight’s Golden Snitch Walk was called on account of no snitches. In mid-March the evening air was buzzing with them. As I closed the gate on evening chores, two American Woodcocks–the absolute model for J.K. Rowling’s glittery winged ball, or I’ll eat my Ravenclaw hat–twisted in their funnel-cloud dance not more than 20 feet above me.
Then it got cold; freezy enough for S’more to agree to keep his thermal goat coat strapped on just a little while longer.
Our first scheduled woodcock walk was windy and chilly. We saw deer and Indian hemp, counted birds and tracks. But snitches were nowhere to be seen or heard. That didn’t changeover the next few weeks. I told the April 6 preregistrants that the birds had come and gone for 2019.
This dead tree is home to woodpeckers, fungi and all sorts of creatures.
Snitches aside, today was a gorgeous day; the first real spring day that we’ve had since one random warm breath in March. I walked the planned walk route, dipping a net into the quarry. Its waters team with dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, snails and shrimpish scuds. No mosquito larvae dare swim near the predatory odonata; such is the beauty of a healthy wetland.
No frog egg masses string the surface yet. There are frogs and toads clucking, burring and trilling from the quarry’s edge northeast across the vernal pools of Coburn’s Bottom to the property line at Riley Creek. All those Hey-Baby-Baby-Babies mean tadpoles are brewing in the slurry. A toad hops across the trail in front of me, not a snitch but gold all the same from the lowering sun and amphibian afterglow.
Two Canada geese sail in for the night, skidding across the quarry’s still surface. The ripples haven’t yet subsided when a small flock of wood ducks join them. I hurry along the path to bridge Cranberry Run so as not to scare them away. I’ve just climbed the hill and am up and out of the preserve when, behind me, I hear an airborne whistling.
I look up to see a winged softball arc over the quarry.
We’ve got plans this Spring and hope that you will join us. There will be wildflower and bird sightings, salamander searches, and hopefully a Star Walk, should the sky clear for good viewing.
Click on the newsletter cover posted here to download your copy of the Spring 2019 Newsletter. Read about what has happened here on The Quarry Farm this winter as well as the Programs & Events that we have scheduled for the next few months. Watch our Facebook page, too, for announcements, fast facts, and photos.
This 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.
Saturday 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.
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.
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.
A 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.
For 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?
The bowl is full. Not just halfway filled, either. After a New Year’s Eve drenching, the old quarry, its drainage channels and Cranberry Run are Lake Quarry Farm. Up above along the ridges, there are enough puddles that the geese haven’t the need to wander down the paths to take a swim in the pool.
The rain swale beside the cabin is full again, having done its job diverting one and a third inches of downpour from under the historic floorboards. Two white tails flashed behind the east-facing porch; hooves crashed through the brush as deer stranded on the Ridge sought cover. Rifle season”s good and gone so their secret is safe.
Last night’s ball didn’t drop around here. It blew from West to east which is probably why the water isn’t still deeper. All the bird nesting boxes are back up on their posts and the Christmas ladder is back up on the deck. Wintery mix is in the forecast, just enough (fingers-crossed) to wash the mud off its steps so it can be stored away, but not enough to keep the donkeys, goats and pigs from enjoying the windfall from Hoen’s Orchard. The llamas, who normally scoff at anything not hay or sweet feed, have set a place at the juicy table of apples and squash.
Happy New Year, wherever it takes you. Maybe it will be lead you here in 364 days or less.
All The Quarry Farm news that is fit to print, or at least all the news that we could fit on an 11″ x 17″ piece of piece of paper printed on both sides, is being printed as we speak. But don’t wait for hard copy. Click on the cover here and the electronic version right now.
One thing we would like to add is to watch for announcement for weekend Star Walks. We try conduct these during a new moon so that we can see a lot of stars. It’s tough to plan these ahead of time because of the weather. Look for announcements a couple of days before on The Quarry Farm Facebook page for Star Walks on:
• Saturday, January 5
• Saturday, February 2
• Saturday, March 3