Weekend for the birds

20170218_103256This Great Backyard Bird Count weekend is unusual in more ways than one. To begin with, this is the first in which I wore shorts outside.

20170218_103128Today is Day 3 in the 19th year that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society have coordinated this international weekend of documenting birds. It’s a four-day snapshot of what birds are where. Some years, a few days after the count is over, I see a bird that wasn’t on our checklist and think, “I wish that had been here last week.” But that’s the point; as long as the species made someone’s checklist somewhere, all is well for now.

A breeze was promising to build Saturday morning, so I started out at 8 a.m. with binoculars. Cardinals, house sparrows, juncos, wild turkey, red-winged blackbirds, gold finches and this flock of mallards made themselves known visually.

Since I am not an audio birder, I recorded sounds at various locations in the nature preserve with the hope of blog-reader assistance.  Anyone care to share your identifications? Click on each photo to listen:

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NW corner of the back field

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SW field tree line, above oxbow

 

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Base of catalpa tree, south central back field

By 10 a.m., the wind was high. Birds took shelter, skittering into and through the woods. Eight people joined me the scheduled Quarry Farm 2017 Bird Count. All had binoculars and good hiking shoes.

Our party of nine walked the floodplain trail, past the quarry, up the main path to cross the back field. We looped back through the oldest tree groves, past the oxbow.

Fortunately, our party included a father and son who drove all the way from Jenera in the county to the east. They knew their birds by sight, sound and movement, honing their birding skills by challenging each other to car ride bird identification games.

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Springing moss at the oxbow

We documented 26 species and two other taxa. You can view this checklist at: http://ebird.org/ebird/gbbc/view/checklist/S34534270

Check out all documented species from “The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve & Conservation Farm, Putnam County, Ohio, US” at http://gbbc.birdcount.org including the entire number that we will file for February 17-20, 2017, and explore the worldwide count.

It’s now Sunday evening and there is an American Woodcock buzzing outside the window. That wish I mentioned before? One just came true.

almost autumn

almost autumn and the sky squeezes blue
through the eye, guilt
from a moment of weeks; two days,
one leaf between a bible

of pages

black and white and velvet brown feet pad
through fallen leaves.
and still another falls to join them
and another still
and another still

Just a week, now, until fall; seven days and yesterday felt every bit the season. We ferried Captain John, the opossum, and Carlton, the potbelly, to Lima for an evening program in the amphitheater at Johnny Appleseed’s Ottawa Metropark. It was cold in the bottomland where the structure sits, the wind constant and insinuating.

But this is less about that than it is about earlier in the day. For the first time in weeks, in months, yesterday afternoon we worked our way to the back field. Certainly because we missed the woods and the field, the stream where it runs past the quarry and the quarry itself, but also as an introduction. And in keeping with this Merlin of a post, where time first marched backward from evening to afternoon, now there’s cause to relate a time two weeks back…two weeks and two days, not to put too fine a point on it.

This is Cady.

Cady

Anne named her for Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who, among other things, was an American suffragist. Cady came to us through the Putnam County Dog Shelter. She was abandoned in a Columbus Grove apartment not too very long after she’d birthed pups and almost certainly not for the first time, the birthing or the abandonment. The county’s dog warden, Mike Schroth, let us know about her situation, granted us the opportunity to invite her into our family. So, 72 hours after the county assumed responsibility for her welfare and 48 hours after we introduced her to Mister Bill (who gave her a sniff and then turned his back) and to the chickens (who paid her no heed at all) and to the turkeys (who took an immediate dislike to her and now pester her wherever she goes within the fenced-in area that is the animal sanctuary, unrelentingly reminding me of that Sandra Boynton cartoon), Cady relinquished her given name, Baby, and came to The Quarry Farm, new baptized.

Cady and LollySo, yesterday, 12 days after Baby became Cady, we introduced her to the wilder part of The Quarry Farm, the woods and fields beyond the fence. And again today, yesterday having proven a bounding success. With Lolly, Cady peered into Cranberry Run, braved the bridge, skirted the quarry, tore through the leaves on the main path to the back field, grazed her way across the field, padded along the ridge above Coburn’s Bottom and then back and back and back and back.

On the way, she passed, unremarked, goldenrod goldenrodironweedand ironweed

and a catalpa, alone, in the midst of the goldenrod,

catalpa in back 40

a viceroy

monarch

and a dragon.

saddlebag

Who knows what she’ll see next time, Cady, in the fields and along the stream? Or the time after that, for she’s not going anywhere, our Cady.

cady by deadfall_edited-1

Welcome home.

The Buzz

I’ve been struggling to find some clever way to start this post, to write the hook I need to pull you in and I’m failing miserably. Miserably. So, because my brain is fogged with the ridiculous heat we’re dealing with, I’ll just say that it’s about bees. Yeah. Bees. The kind that make honey, that bumble flower to flower, that kamikaze in defense of their homes, that, in conjunction with birds, create a happy little euphemism for sex. And sex is sexy, so maybe that’s all the hook I really need.

Clever me.

So, the bees. We set up a hive in mid April. Anne’s cousin, Brian, made all the arrangements for the bees and we took care of the materials: the hive body, the supers, the frames, the feeding troughs. We provided them a steady diet of syrup (sugar and water) and we’d pull off the hive cover and the inner cover on a nearly daily basis and ogle them from a distance. Yesterday, we got up close and personal. Brian came up from Columbus and he and Anne cracked the hive, pulled out the frames and checked out the action. The news could have been better.

Brian Erchenbrecher examining a frame from The Quarry Farm hive.

While the bees had developed new comb on the frames, there wasn’t nearly enough. And, again, while there were eggs and signs of developing brood, there wasn’t much and indications are that the developing brood are mostly drones. What are drones, you ask? They’re ne’er-do-well playboys, eating the nectar and giving back nearly nothing. They have no stinger, so they can’t protect the hive. They have no pollen sacs, so they can’t gather food. Their idea of work is chasing virgin queens.

Think Bruce Wayne, but no Batman. There you have it. Drones.

So what’s the big deal? So what if the hive’s Bohemian, populated with lotus eaters? If there are  only drones and no workers, there’s no comb. Without comb, there’s no honey. Without honey, the bees starve come winter. In fact, come late autumn the worker bees force the drones from the hive. They have to. Driving them out could well mean the difference between starving to death and surviving until spring.

It’s been suggested by scientists who study bees that a bee hive operates very much like a human brain. I mean, there’s no higher cognitive function, but otherwise, scientists have posited that their operations are very similar. If that’s the case, then our hive brain is more like Forrest Gump’s than Stephen Hawking’s. Which is not to say that it can’t improve. There is still hope, albeit one akin to the Flowers for Algernon variety. Realistically? Odds are, based on what we saw yesterday, that the hive will fail, the brain will die and we’ll have to start fresh next spring. That’s not what we wanted to hear, but there’s still good news.

And here it is.

The catalpa hive

Down the road from us, near the intersection of Roads 7-L and O, there’s a line of catalpa trees. In one of those trees is a hive of feral bees. This is a very cool thing, particularly when you understand that the hive has survived and thrived for roughly four years. With the population of bees dwindling as a consequence of a host of issues, to find a succesful wild hive is seriously cool. Why? Bees are our primary pollinators. Without them, plants that reproduce through pollination, and that’s the vast majority of our fruits and vegetables, simply don’t reproduce. No reproduction = No food.

So cheer on the bees, both wild and domestic. We’ll keep you posted on their progress.