Saturday, October 30, 2010

Field Trip: Sandhill Cranes at Jasper-Pulaski FWA

Last night I had the great pleasure of joining a group to see the migrating sandhill cranes at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana.  Our group was led by the exceptionally knowledgeable naturalist Kip Miller, of Love Creek Park in Berrien Springs, Michigan.  I learned so much from Kip, but any mistaken facts here are strictly my own!

The cranes spend their summers far north -- as far as Canada's frozen tundra.  But as the days begin to shorten, their instincts call them south.  The thousands of cranes who meet up in Indiana are headed to Florida, as were many of the folks gathered on the observation deck.  Other groups might travel to Texas or New Mexico, via another major staging area in Nevada.

We arrived about an hour before sunset.  Initially there were scattered groups of cranes in the field, joined by a herd of deer.  As the minutes passed, increasing groups began to fly in from the southeast and the east.  The sound of the cranes approaching is unmistakeable!

Cranes are omnivorous, eating seeds and grass and bugs and the occasional mouse or snake.  They gather each evening at this field, seemingly sharing the details of their busy days with friends and family, then as dark settles they travel just northwest of where we stood to a marsh.  Cranes sleep with their feet wet.  Who knew?

But until it was dark, we enjoyed the flyovers.

They arrive mostly in family groups.  A successful pair of cranes will hatch one or two chicks each season, so most of the families are three or four together.  As my untrained eye became more accustomed to watching, I could see these groupings.


Kip brought a high powered telescope through which we could see amazing detail on the birds.  The adults have a red patch on their heads.   Sorry you cannot recognize it in my photos!  As they gather on the ground in the field, they do a maneuver where they poke the ground with their long beaks and toss a clod of dirt into the air.  There is also a bit of dancing with their wings whirling around, though at this time of year it wouldn't be a mating ritual, I don't think.

We hoped that the cranes would have a mass fly-up to their marsh for us, but as it grew darker it was clear that they would relocate in smaller groups.  At one point we heard a large group from far across the field make their move -- it sounded a bit like a huge windstorm, and I expect if you are nearby it must feel that way as well!

The birds grew more quiet. The air grew more brisk and I admit I had thoughts of leaving. But then, off in the distance, we heard the start of coyotes calling. Lots of coyotes. A chilling sound of howls and calls among quite a few animals.

The birds heard it, too.

Their chatter suddenly changed tone, and in a rising crescendo, they rose up. Listen.

Simply amazing. 

The cranes gather at Jasper-Pulaski through November, before continuing their exodus to Florida.  Dawn and dusk at the times to experience the greatest activity, and I highly recommend a field trip.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Message to Hens

In the past the chickens have enjoyed spending time outside.  When I would approach their hatch door to open it, they would race up the ramp, jostling to be first out.   Once outside they happily comingled with the ducks. 

Here's baby Spot along with his ill-fated sister.  Even at their young age they loved racing outside and playing in the grass or the mud.

But something has happened.

Now the only ones who race outside are Ari Duckass, the Wacky Quackers, the striped mama hen and her babies, and the roosters.  Why do all the others hang back?

I pondered the question.  Could there have been an incident with a dog or a cat?  Possibly, but the fence does not appear to have been damaged in any way.  Maybe a hawk flyover?  Always a risk, but again, no evidence.  What I needed was evidence.  And then I saw this:

And I knew that Busy Solitude Farm has joined the legions of institutions across the nation that must address the problem of bullying.  And so I say to the chickens,

Friday, October 8, 2010

Autumn getaway

This past weekend I was "up north" with a couple of college girlfriends.  We get together every October at a house in a pine forest on a river.  Heaven.  One of the central themes of every visit is food, such as the brunch table above featuring yogurt fruit parfaits, spinach quiche, spicy black bean dip, and assorted toast.  We also enjoyed a scrumptious autumn vegetable dish including butternut squash, onion, and zucchini roasted two hours in a broth that was sort of sweet/sour.  This was served over couscous.  Of course there were Busy Solitude Farm eggs for breakfast, and plenty of wine with supper.  

There are no pets in residence at this house, however this summer a sort of pet has adopted them.

Yes, a peacock. Apparently a few of them appeared early this year, but Lord Buddy Peacock is the sole remaining bird.  He roosts on the peak of the roof at night, then wanders around the property during the day.  I think he's kind of lonely.  The homeowner has placed a mirror behind a screen door so he can see his reflection and be company for himself, but beyond that he's a loner.

The belief is that he (and his former compatriots) came from a nearby farm where peafowl have been sighted before.  So before the homeowner closes up for the season, they plan to capture Lord Buddy and return him to the farm for the winter.  Maybe next year they can get a pair and have peachicks!

The weather was chilly and drizzly until our day of departure, when the sun came out.  My friends and I sat outdoors for a few minutes and manufactured some vitamin D.

Well, I always wanted curly hair.  Don't they have wonderful halos?  No such luck for me!

All too quickly, the weekend is over.  I returned home to happy pets who'd been well cared for in my absence.  And I think we were all delighted to climb into bed last night and cuddle up against the cold. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Farm dogs

My dogs are not farm dogs.  They are town dogs, transported to the farm.  They have a fenced yard, and they walk on leashes when they are not in that yard.  I have no worries of them causing mischief to someone else, because I manage their access.

Yesterday evening I took Oskar for a walk up the road.  We have a mile route we frequently take, half mile out, half mile back (here in the midst of farmland the roads are long and straight!).  The "out" went just fine.  As we walked towards home, looking at a beautiful rosy sunset, we approached the farm across the street from our house.  No one lives there, it's where a major area farmer keeps most of his equipment and stores his grain.

Someone was loading grain.  The loud whirr of the conveyor and the rattle of movement in the huge storage building made that clear.  As did the sweet smell in the air.

Just as we walked past, a yellow lab came racing out between two of the storage buildings, running right at us.  Oskar whipped around to face the barking dog, and in the process his rear legs went out from under him.  At 12 years old, he has some arthritis in his hips and spine.  When he goes down, he needs help to get up.  But I could not help him because the lab kept approaching and jabbering at us.

I yelled "come get your dog!", but whoever was there did not hear because of all the grain noise.  I yelled some more, then finally launched a loud, high pitched scream.

Out came the farmer's wife, hollered at her dog who immediately left the street and returned to her.  I waited until I knew he was gone, then gently lifted Oskar's rear end, helping to steady him on his feet.

As we walked across the street to home he kept looking over his shoulder, lest that dog come at us again.

When they first got that dog, they'd arrive at the farm and he'd jump right out of the truck and race over to bark at my dogs in their fence.  I asked them to keep him across the street.  They did for a while, but then he was back.  I finally left a note for the patriarch of the family stating that their dog made my dogs crazy, and that I was concerned for the safety of my chickens out behind my barn.  I got home that day to a brief phone message.  "This is Karl.  It won't happen again."

My dogs are not farm dogs.  I manage their access to trouble.  I wish that lab was not a farm dog, either.