April 2011

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Rebecca keeps a copy of The Birders Handbook on her bedside table and every time an unusual spring visitor shows up outside our window she grabs it to check out the new arrival.

townsend's solitaire

We’ve had plenty of avian visitors this spring and the handbook is well thumbed. A red breasted finch showed up recently and we thought we heard a barn owl hooting a few nights ago. Rebecca definitely spotted a Townsend’s Solitaire last week.

 We’re not really serious birders–no lifelists or anything like that.  But one of the side benefits to raising a smorgasbord of chemical-free crops is the profusion of birds that show up to feast on the leftovers. Arguments may still flare between pro and anti-organic supporters but those birds know what’s good for them. 

It is early in the season–most of our plant starts are still in the greenhouse or huddled under row cover–but each morning these days we wake up to a cacaphone of calls from the local flocks of breakfasting, mating and nesting robins and chickadees. The sparrows are everywhere. You can just about set your watch on the arrival of the first Violet Green Swallows–April 16 last year. (Rebecca once insisted we do a Google search to check for possible swallow kills along our flock’s migratory route from Central America after they were week late arriving.)

The little birds scour the fields for leftover seeds and snatch early insect hatches on the fly, providing a wonderful display of avian aerobatics. Everybody seems to dig into the feeder we put out on the porch for Cleo, our resident pea hen. The big birds, hawks and owls, show up to feast on the little guys and on the rodents who foolishly poke their noses out of their burrows looking for seeds.

A young eagle has been cruising our fields for several days now, stopping here and there to pick up bits of straw and branches for a new nest up in the tall firs that fringe the hillside and, perhaps incidentally scouting the chickens who are busy scratching up their areas. At night, a couple of bard owls sit down by the farm gate, waiting and watching in the dark, and regularly sounding off  like tiny foghorns.

All this, of course, in addition to the hens, turkeys and ducks scrambling their own turf on the lower pastures. Some days it sounds like the Bronx Zoo birdhouse around here when the sun climbs over the horizon.

But the real actors are the crows. We have mixed emotions about these guys. They can destroy a newly planted row of starts and they occasionally scare the bejesus out of the chickens when the fowl are still small. The only thing we have found to be successful in scaring them away is to hang a crow carcass on a branch. Our neighbor and uber-photographer Bob Dash has been gaining some fame with this shot he made a couple of years ago.

Scarecrow and silver chimes.

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