welcoming Spring

IMG_9128

It’s Monday and snow is falling outside the window. The temperature is low enough that the white stuff of winter is sticking in clumps on trees and on what new grass there is. Two days ago it wasn’t much warmer, but it was still the first full day of spring. And even though the morning blew in on a cold northwest wind, Spring is great cause for celebration after a polar cold winter that began prematurely with snow on October 31.

IMG_9108We planned a March 21 ‘Welcome Spring’ Family Day three months ago by placing the event announcement in our winter newsletter. It was an optimistic move, one which dreamed big of turning over logs to find salamanders and the first bloodroot leaves curling up from the ground around the old homestead well north of the 10-acre grassland.

The forecast looked promising for Saturday, with sun and predicted temps in the high 50s. As noted two paragraphs ago, what we got was cold wind and gray. Laura switched the refreshment menu from cookies and lemonade to doughnut holes, cookies and a selection of hot beverages which we thought would consumed by those of us who live close by.

Instead, we were joined by three families, all hat-and-coated and ready to hit the trails. Most were return visitors, so they knew that the wind chill would drop once we entered the nature preserve with its tree lines of defense.

Two Canada geese stayed put on the melted quarry surface, at least long enough for us to watch them lift off. We saw plenty of signs of movement, from a variety of tracks to wild turkey feathers. And since this walk was one to greet Spring, this group inaugurated the vernal pool trail for all future guests.

Steve gathered two water samples from the largest pool, an oxbow that was once part of Cranberry Run prior to a brutal 1950s attempt to ditch the natural, wild creek. The oxbow is home to frogs, dragonflies, woods ducks and a variety of turtles. Saturday, most burrowed deep and our enthusiasm sent anything with wings away, but the net did yield scuds, a tiny crustacean akin to shrimp.

We pondered scat in the upland grassland, talked about the sharp hawthorn that sometimes stores a shrike’s lunch and made maple leaf angels on the main hardwoods trail.

Up and out again, and several donuts and hot chocolate cups later, the south Cranberry Run trail led us to the farm animal sanctuary where Buddy, Beatrice, Johnny, Marsh and Mister Bill led the pack in a high-five. Turkeys Inigo and Humperdink paraded their splendid selves about, puffing and drumming as their heads mottled from pink to blue to purple and back again.

IMG_9146It was the first visit with guests for Mister Bill, a very, very, very large Boer goat, and he was tolerant until he’d had enough and wandered away to chew on a spruce. We took the hint at high noon, the scheduled departure time anyway, and were escorted to the gate by turkeys, goats, Buddy and Beatrice.

A warmer spring walk, one fit for wildflowers and light sweaters, is in the works for April.

Stay tuned.

And the Tally Is…

BirdingOver the course of a lifetime, we count any number of things: the number of cars we’ve owned, the dates we’ve had, the hours or minutes left before the end of the work day, the children in a school group we’re chaperoning and on and on and on. This past weekend, we counted birds. And it wasn’t just us, the folks who showed up at The Quarry Farm for this latest event. It was people all across North America and around the world participating in this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count.

Cooper's hawk

Cooper’s hawk

Sponsored by the Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada,┬áthis four-day annual event provides data about bird populations and migration to these giants in ornithological research. For us, the event has provided the opportunity to specifically record some of the birds that live here. The birds spotted and identified included: house sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, gold finches, white-breasted nuthatches, American crows, turkeys, great-horned owls, eastern screech owls, red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks, juncos, American robins, Downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, northern cardinals, blue jays, horned larks, starlings, mourning doves, rock doves, brown creepers, Canada geese, mallards, great blue herons, black-capped chicadees, tufted titmice, song sparrows, dark-eyed juncos and one bird species that, a little over a year ago, perplexed more than a few of us.

Northern shrike

Northern shrike

Last year, on our annual Winter Walk, we discovered a vole skewered on a thorn in a hawthorn tree. At the time, none of us were sure how the vole came to be there, though we threw a lot of guesses around and came to the mistaken conclusion that a passing raptor had dropped its dinner and it was inadvertently pinned in the tree. Three seasons later, on yet another walk, a naturalist and amateur ornithologist told us that it was likely the result of a Loggerhead shrike pinioning the vole for later. Well, he was close. One of the birds we discovered on our walk was not the Loggerhead shrike, but the Northern shrike, a close cousin to the Loggerhead.

vole 1Although classified as a songbird, all shrikes share a behavior commonly associated with raptors: that is, they prey on small mammals, lizards and amphibians. Not only do they prey on these small animals, they store them away for later feasting by skewering their prey on thorns. So the cause of our earlier conundrum came clearly into view and was the highlight of our count this year.

It was a good weekend and a stellar bird count. In total, we identified nearly thirty different species of birds. That, and we definitively put to rest the bizarre and somewhat gruesome puzzle of the impaled vole.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.