It Took a Blizzard

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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

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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.

Fall 2018 Newsletter

Fall 2018 Newsletter coverSchool’s back in session and we are ready for the cooler weather, especially with our annual Jam on September 8 and The Quarry Farm 5K just around the bend. Click on the cover here to read the Fall 2018 Newsletter and join us for the upcoming programs listed, including the new Give Thanks Woodland Hike, or give us a call/email to schedule an outing or program.

Winter news

2014 Winter NewslettercoverS'moreWith temperatures above 0°F and sun overhead, the visuals are breathtaking on the banks of Cranberry Run today.

Turkey track

Goat-tracked corridors criss-cross the upland sanctuary. Wild turkeys are on the move on the paths as these elusive birds forage in the floodplain and on the cover of the 2014 winter newsletter. Click of the cover to the left to read more.

Hope to see you under the stars later this month. Don’t forget to RSVP.

No Point In Mopping

Winter 2013 TQF CoverThe word of the day is WET. The Quarry Farm, indeed all of Putnam County, went from snow and blue skies to green grass, brown fields, swollen and fast-moving streams and gray skies in 48 hours.

Saturday’s 60-degree temperatures saw the flock–all ten Priscillas, Barbara, Big Girl and Karen–out of the hen-house. As I cleaned their digs, as well as the goose buildings, the girls murmured their pleasure at being out to scratch in the grass and in their tunnels under the forsythia, elderberry and tamarisk. I swear they even purred.

Buddy brayed a few times, bringing me on the run to see what concerned our good guard donkey. Twice it was to let me know that Beatrice was thinking about visiting the neighbors. The third I found out later was because a pair of bald eagles had led a Gilboa couple from the Blanchard down the Riley Creek river valley to The Quarry Farm and the banks of Cranberry Run.

October BridgeLast night’s and today’s rains have laid low the eagles as well as the hens. The geese enjoyed splashing in the puddles, but the girls preferred to scratch through the fresh straw of the hen-house. Buddy stuck his head out a couple of times, but he and the goats mostly stayed high and dry. Not so for anything in the floodplain. Compare the photo taken during the fall photo shoot and sketch walk (right) to the one taken today of the same foot bridge and you’ll see that Cranberry Run has some receding to do from the rainfall, snowmelt and torrential runoff from surrounding fields. But if you scroll back to the January 1 post you’ll see how quickly the scenery changes here.

Here’s a little quiz for you: Your eyes and nose present clues that can help you determine cause and effect. We all know that. When you study the photo above of the flooded foot bridge (click for an enlargement) you can see different kinds of plants, trees, and even water. See the stacked foam along the bridge? What does an accumulation of six inches or more of foam along a water body’s edge indicate? Check back tomorrow for the answer.

flooded bridge

No doubt we’ll have clear skies and firm ground by January 19. Click on the cover of our current newsletter (upper left) to download the complete issue. You’ll find announcements for two upcoming events including this weekend’s first Stargazing Walk. Hope to have a good gathering for this new event. Mike Erchenbrecher is a dynamic speaker and educator. He’s one of those people who can draw you into a subject with his infectious love for all things earth science. Top that off with hot chocolate and a warm campfire and you couldn’t find a better way to spend your winter Saturday evening. Owl calling and counting is optional.

Since The Quarry Farm trails aren’t open to the public without appointment, at least until the boardwalks are in and the permanent trail markers are up, we ask that you call or email ahead. Plus we need to know how many lanterns to have on hand to light the way.