This was written in early June, but I hesitated to post it. I want to resurrect the blog, so here it is:
Fair warning, this post deals with death, sometimes graphically.
But it also celebrates life.
It has been the most springlike spring in recent memory – wet for sure, and most weeks with at least one day with a high only in the low 80s, sometimes lower. But also, plenty of hot, sunny days, so the grass has been charging ahead.
I tried something different this year. I have not kept the edges of my haymow bushhogged, since bobwhite quail like the marginal areas between meadow and forest to nest in. (I have also not kept up with several other areas I usually mow, but that’s for other reasons, none as chivalrous.)
The hay got tall and leggy, but still full enough underneath. I was chomping at the bit to cut. I knew, though, that the ground nesting birds might not be done raising their clutches. I love seeing the bobwhites and redwinged blackbirds out working the fields, so I try to look out for them. Once I saw a bobwhite fledgling fly from underfoot while I was walking in the field, I knew we were ready. I cut hay two weeks ago Friday.
A couple of days before I cut hay, while shooting the breeze with my neighbor, he mentioned that he had hit a baby fawn with his bushhog mower. Him riding up on the tractor, and fawns being camouflaged and well hidden by their mothers, there was no way for him to see it. Fawns are deaf at birth, and for several weeks after. This helps them to stay still and hidden, usually out of harm’s way.
At the time, it was startling news, but understandable. I already knew the deaf fact, and told him of it, explaining why it hadn’t gotten up and ran.
It was even more startling when I heard my hay mower hit something that Friday. The hay mower, designed as it is to cut grass blades only once and then lay the grass down, had cut the legs out from under a weeks-old fawn. I had crippled it, but the injuries were not immediately life-threatening. Luckily I did have my knife, so I slit its throat and watched it bleed out while I apologized to the wind.
While cutting the rest of the hay, I was especially careful. Twice, I noticed different bobwhite fledglings attempting, clumsily, to fly away from the approaching mower. Twice I stopped, caught the pinfeathered critters, and tossed them to safety. They flew better with the head start. My daughter, who had been riding in the child seat on the fender through all this, enjoyed seeing the chicks up close. Later, she pointed out a great blue heron working the shore of my neighbor’s pond and we stopped to watch. We didn’t see it catch anything.
. . .
My older kids and I enjoy taking the bikes as transportation up front to my barn, or to the neighbors’ to lend a hand. We notice the birds scatter from the fields or their perches up on the wire as we ride.
The bobwhites have been especially numerous this past week.
Often, I stop the bike to watch the birds fly, or to appreciate them perched before I get too close. I have read that a good indicator of land that is very habitable to wildlife is its diversity of birds. Now, granted, my land is only 25 acres, and wild birds all need more than that to roam, but I try to be a good citizen of nature, and perhaps it is starting to show. (maybe that’s just hubris showing…)
This year, we have noticed several species of birds that we’ve never seen here before. There is a pair of small ducks with triangular pointed wings and rapid wingbeats that I’m unable to identify, as I’ve only seen them in silhouette against the sky.
We have seen and heard the black, white, and red Pileated woodpeckers working the trees before, but not so often as we have this year.
And this year is the first time we have seen the tan, black-spotted Northern Flicker woodpecker foraging the ground outside our dining room window and bathing in puddles in the front yard.
There are the tiny, bright blue birds I see early flitting about on the driveway in my headlights, and which once got caught in my chimney. I held it in my hand for a moment before freeing it, stroking the soot from its feathers and letting the kids admire it.
The most spectacular sighting I have made is when I saw a small, light gray owl (barn owl?) perched in a tree at the edge of my field one early spring day driving home. I stopped short in the driveway, with its eyes peering deeply into mine for minutes on end. Then it turned its head, silently alighted, and disappeared into the forest.
. . .
We try to teach the kids an appreciation of wildlife so they can realize the impact we can have around us. I let my seven year old son and 4 year old daughter see the dead fawn, after explaining that I had to kill it, since a deer that can’t walk won’t be able to eat, and starving to death isn’t pleasant. She and her brother have been raised matter-of-factly around animals and food, and while they weren’t happy to see the death, they were not distraught either. I explained that I did not want to or mean to hurt it, but sometimes life on a farm means seeing things die. And that’s OK.
I have seen two other fawns die in the past week. One was under my bushhog, the other wasn’t my doing. The kids didn’t learn of one of them.
I don’t love deer, unless it’s on the table. Kidding aside, I think they are a bane of Zone 1 counties and there should be no limit on them for several years.
That said, I’m taking a break from tractor work for a couple of weeks. Gotta let the darn things grow up a bit.