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.

at the root of the problem, something wonderful

P1020028As a race, humans have found a lot of ways of saying that no matter what — somewhere, somehow — there’s a little bit of good in every bad situation: it’s an ill wind that blows no good, every dark cloud has a silver lining.

As it turns out, what we found out here at The Quarry Farm, there’s truth to be found there. But first, a little bit about bush honeysuckle.

In the early 1970s, before anybody was paying attention, it was common knowledge that planting honeysuckle was a good thing, particularly if you wanted to attract birds. And while there are honeysuckle species native to North America, more than a few that aren’t were allowed to proliferate. Morrow’s and Amur honeysuckle were particularly popular for their dense foliage and bright red berries and now particularly troublesome as two of the most invasive species of honeysuckle unadvisedly planted. Both can grow as tall as 15 feet and both are monoculture plants; they crowd out everything  around them and nothing grows beneath their spreading branches. There’s even evidence that they engage in chemical warfare, releasing toxins into the soil to kill off any competition until there’s nothing at the base of these plants but bare soil. While they typically don’t do well in shaded environments, preferring to grow at the verges of woodlands, both take advantage of any disturbance in the upper story of a woods to move in and establish a fortified foothold at the first opportunity. And while it’s true that birds love their bright red berries, they offer little in the way of nutrition. Sure, they brighten the feathers of cardinals and the burning breasts of robins, but they’re junk food, the natural equivalent of candy bars and potato chips.

In short, they’re a nightmare for any organization or agency working to develop or maintain native habitat. And they’re here on The Quarry Farm in numbers too vast to count. We’ve adopted a multifold approach to getting a handle on this problem, but the most effective method is to simply pull them up by the roots whenever and wherever it’s possible.

Recently, we accepted an application from Emma, a first-year student at Antioch College, to assist us in our many efforts. One of her primary responsibilities is to help control bush honeysuckle on The Quarry Farm. Right away, we put her to work, yanking up the pest.

And here comes the silver lining.

P1020031Emma set to work first along the Cut-Off, a man-made wetland created when the county opted to straighten the stream in the 1960s, thereby isolating what was once an oxbow in Cranberry Run. At the end of her third day, while making her way back to her temporary home, she stopped to pull one last medium-sized clump of honeysuckle…and found a salamander nestled beneath its roots.

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To say the least, we’re thrilled. It’s a wonderful start to what we know will be a productive 10 weeks.

Thank you, Emma, and welcome.