2019, a year of birds on (and off) the farm

We’re a bit tardy in our bird end-of-year-recap. Yes. And we have every assortment of excuse, but we’ll spare you.  We invite you to muster your imagination, make yourself a cup of hot tea, pretend like it is mid-January and that we have our act together.

As regards bird friends, 2019 was quieter on the farm than the previous two years, perhaps due to (lack of) deliberation and intensity of monitoring.  In looking at the weekly species count, we can see how the cold snowy start to the year delayed spring migration and stretched it out a bit, but the overall trend matches well with earlier seasons. Last spring, we also had fewer birds making nests on the farm; nesting birds included house sparrows, starlings, house finches, Eurasian collared-doves, and chickadees. Of note: there were half as many successful robin clutches in 2019 as 2018 which suggests that the cold, snowy spring may have been especially hard for some of the common bird species.

We had several species that were surprising in their absence: spring wood ducks looking for nesting cavities, turkeys, only one hummingbird, no orioles, and the fall sparrows didn’t dally at all on their way south.

Even though the season was quiet, we did have nine new species observed on the farm in 2019. Prairie Falcon, American Kestrel, Common Merganser, Warbling Vireo, Tennessee and Black-and-White Warblers, Eastern Phoebe, LaConte’s Sparrow, and an absolutely stunning male Ring-Necked Pheasant showed up on our back porch the day before Thanksgiving.   We had ninety-four known species on the farm, plus a number of mystery birds that either didn’t make it on the list or were hesitantly added and labeled “sp.”

You’ll notice on the graph two considerable gaps in data collection. Mid-summer, we had a chance to celebrate Jeremy’s little brother’s wedding in Norway, and in December we took time to visit Trish’s parents in Baja California, Mexico.  So, although our birding experience at home on the farm was relatively unembellished, the variety of birds we had a chance to see throughout the year was probably the most diverse we will ever experience. Mid-summer Sea Eagles, Puffins, and Arctic Terns feeding their fluffy babies under the midnight sun (!), AND, in December, an estuary full of shorebirds, cardon cactus covered with sunning vultures at sunrise, and four kinds of hummingbirds assertively sharing the feeder at our casita.

Another possibility for the reduced sightings of birds over this year is that being off-farm for almost eight weeks meant that we were working more deliberately, more focused on getting tasks done, and Jeremy’s attentions were wandering off towards the branches and the sky a little less, but that seems unlikely.

Lastly, because it is already May and we are mid-Spring migration here is a link to the Migration Celebration reggae playlist we put together last year. And a poem by Billy Collins, one that speaks dearly to Trish’s relationship with bird watching.

We hope this note finds you all happy and healthy and enjoying joyous intimacies with your gregarious, feathered neighbors. Love, T and J

P.S. For those of you interested in specifics, here is a link to our 2019 weekly bird species monitoring list and check out ebird for a deep dive into the magic of citizen science.

P.P.S! If you are interested in Cycle Farm’s previous years’ bird summaries, here you go: 2017 and 2018.

Another year of birds on the farm

This time of year has us getting our ducks in a row and planning for the upcoming season. Part of this includes reflecting on last year, what worked well, what absolutely needs changed.  Some of these conversations and decisions are more difficult than others (financial decisions, winnowing Jeremy’s girthy seed order list). Others are entirely delightful. Which brings us to the bird list, a weekly record of bird species identified on the farm that we started as part of our on-farm monitoring. Last year’s bird log and a brief write-up is available here

The graph above shows this past year’s weekly species count along with the numbers from the previous year. The peaks during seasonal migration are clear and trending. A new record high for number of species per week was set in May with 53 species identified on the farm.  The dips to zero in the species count (in Jan and mid-November) correlate with farmer/observer absence from the farm.

A few of our special highlights for the year include getting a chance to see ospreys (possibly the same bird, but on multiple occasions) eating fish on our hop trellis (ha! some farmers pay for fish fertilizer).  In April, we gawked as a goshawk disemboweled and feasted heartily on a Eurasian-collared dove in the front yard. And while we’re on the subject of well fed birds, a summer tanager came by in May and made short order of a good number of our honeybees.  Additional fun visitors to the farm: common redpolls, peregrine falcons, an ovenbird, a blue-gray gnatcatcher and a hummingbird (sp.?) with a rad bright yellow pollen mohawk. One morning in June, we watched as wrens removed fecal sacks from their nest (in a new box we put up this year!) and stuck them to a branch in an adjacent boxelder – lining them up neatly like bright white farolitos. We did not, however, see as many warblers or hummingbirds as last year (2017).

A few additional notes as regards 2018 birds on the farm:

  • Early in the year, we built, painted a few, and hung up 10 new bird houses. For a variety of different species.
  • Nine species nested on the farm. With at least six robin nests. Also nesting were chickadees, house sparrows, starlings, Eurasian-collared doves, house wrens, house finches, blue jays, and blackbirds. Downy Woodpeckers nested, if not on the farm, very close by; baby downies are super cute.
  • We have set up and are populating a farm ebird account – HooRAH for citizen science!
  • With two steady hands and one additional finger to press the photo button, it is possible to get a reasonably good long distance photo using a binoculars and a smartphone camera.
  • This year’s bird log in full is available as a PDF here <- click to open pdf.

Wishing you a joyful and wonder-filled new year!

Positively drenched in enthusiasm,

your farmers,

Trish and Jeremy

 

a year of birds on the farm

Hooray-hooRAY and happy, happy tidings!

One of the exciting things about flipping over into another January is starting a whole new series of calendars, and we have no shortage of these: farm journal, planting calendar, daily planner, and our bird list.We started the bird list last January 1st in an effort to better monitor our avian diversity and as a way to record the comings and -especially- goings of migrating species, of particular interest: the robins and vultures.

And now with a complete year of observations, we can’t wait to share this. It’s SO COOL: 2017 farm bird list. (< click to view)

The calendar is set up by week with a note (x) for observed presence on farm during that week. This doesn’t account for number of individuals. 300 Grackles get the same x as one Rufous Hummingbird. However, this does show number of species and trends over the course of the season.  The boundaries we use for inclusion are not rigid. Fly-overs are counted as “seen on the farm” (i.e. Sandhill Cranes, Mallards), however wild turkeys seen parading about in the neighbors’ horse pasture don’t. To an extent, these boundaries follow Jeremy’s whims and fancies and mostly depend on likelihood of direct interaction with the farm.

A few things of note:
With these records we can see the two peaks (mid-May and Sept-Oct) of spring and fall migrations. It looks like the spring migration peak is a shorter pulse as birds are cruising on to breeding grounds, and fall migration is more drawn out. Over the course of the year, Jeremy got a whole lot better at bird observation and identification. This certainly skewed the data a bit towards fall abundance.

Our original list included 82 species that we thought we had seen on the farm over the past 5 years. This year we were able to confidently identify a total of 103 different species including 35 new-to-our-list species. (HOLYCRAP!)Bird highlights: We identified three species of hummingbird including the smallest bird in North America, Calliope (photo above(!) courtesy of Greg Albrechtsen). A Golden-winged Warbler. American Redstarts nested here. Regular visits by a Great Horned Owl. Our first Orioles. AND we learned to identify several of the warblers (at least 11 different species and variants), who had until this year just been lumped as “the little flitty birds in the trees.” It’s fun to have these visitors to the farm, to be aware that they have come through, but the species who make the farm their home are most intriguing to us. We are having big fun getting to know the behavior and personalities of these birds; the Juncos, Robins, Starlings, Blue Jays and Flickers.

Our biggest bird week (9/10) included a Sunday in which our sweet, smart friends, Greg and Mary Beth, came over and spent the morning birding with us. These two have been generous and contagiously enthusiastic mentors for us as we cannonball (bellyflop?) into the deep-end of the pool of birding.9/4/2017, birding w. Greg and MBWe’re especially excited to continue this monitoring and watch how seasonal trends appear over several years. And this year we will be planting even more Hummingbird Sage and Sunset Hyssop. Big cluster plantings, everywhere.

Wishing you all a joyful, healthy, and wondrous new year, t&j

(and for our birding brethren – if you would like a copy of our template, it’s here to share: 2018 Birds, annual record – SHARE Easy to edit.)

nightlife

In celebration of National Moth Week (coming up: July 22-30th) and our fine nocturnal Lepidoptera friends, we hosted a Moth Party on the farm this past weekend.We strung up a white sheet on the laundry line and spread another out on the grass. Dusted off the chicken brooder lamps and lugged out our loupes and helpful (and less helpful) moth identification guides. And watched the happenings. It was captivating and incredible. And super fun.Here are photos of a few of the moth party attendees: (bigger! click on this image)So much more than moths joined the party. Special surprises include lady bugs, a bumble bee, dragon fly, and a mantid fly(!). Swarms of itty bitty leaf hoppers. Some spiders. Lacewings(!!) And a wicked smart wasp who spent the evening cruising up the illuminated sheet eating everything in its path, like Pacman.  A bzzzillion thanks to our friend Jane, a brilliant and enthusiastic young naturalist and coolest middle schooler we know, who came equipped with her own butterfly net and observation cage and helped us all with the evening’s invertebrate identification.This is a clover looper who has worn scales of her (his?) thorax, likely from wedging into flowers, under leaf litter, behind bark, or other tight spots. Crack climbing the farm. Farm nightlife is hoppin’. Thanks to everyone who came by and joined us in appreciation and admiration of all these little critters. We’re already looking forward to the next Moth Party.

P.S. We originally schemed projecting Mothra on a second screen (which attracts more moths: white light or Godzilla vs. Mothra?). Due to poor time management on the farmers’ part, we didn’t get the VHS/projector/screen set up as planned. Our apologies for this. Next time.