Mo Bloggin'

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Archive for the tag “swainson’s thrush song”

Highs and lows…

 

20170602_165417It’s a fine July morning as I write this, in the glory of another Pacific Northwest summer. The house is cool from the overnight chill (temps drop 20 degrees or more at night) and I’m sitting in the morning sun, anticipating a hot day (maybe as high as 80s) but trying to warm up in the sun’s rays.  Glorious seems like an over the top word, but it really, really is.

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The Swainson’s thrushes are winding down for the season, sadly.  I’ve heard a few this morning, but nothing like the intensity of just a few weeks ago. I’ve written of my Swainson’s serenades before, and the two months of their song is never enough.  Though I knew they were around for a couple weeks at least, I didn’t hear my first song until May 27 or 28.  It reached a crescendo in early July, with the morning and evening punctuated by seeming near-constant competition between birds and their territories, and reaching a fervor that brings wonder and even worry.  These birds are small – about half the size of a robin, and fit in your hand easily (one flew into my window in May – I picked it up and moved it to a safe, quiet spot while it recovered from the momentary stun).  I am glad I have lots of berries and cherries here for them to feed on as they sing, and hopefully don’t lose any to what has to be exhaustion by the end of the season.  I hope to hear them for a few more evenings yet – they are magical at sunset – but I know it’s almost over.  As I write this I see a young robin, breast still baby-speckled with immature feathering but obviously on her own, dining on the red huckleberries on my old growth stump.  It’s so nice to see.

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Native red elderberry; a favorite of the Swainson’s, but also Robins, Western Tanagers, Cedar Waxwing and more.

I took a few days off around the July 4th holiday this year and it was wonderful.  It seemed to last longer than normal (total time away from work was 5 days) and I got a lot done in that time.  Shearing is almost done, I got the ram lambs banded (except one who turned out to be cryptorchid – the vet will be doing surgery to retrieve the undescended testicle in 3 weeks) and all of them vaccinated except Ginger, Cinnamon’s lamb who is just as skittish as her mama and learning well. Sigh.  I haven’t been able to catch her OR her mama, who is the holdout for shearing.  I’ve sheared all of them myself this year, with a blade (i.e., hand scissors versus electric clippers).  I started off pretty rough and am getting better, and even faster, but I’m not sure I’ll do this again next year.  For one, even though I’m getting better, I can’t do more than two sheep a day, and the mini-rodeo to catch the each one is creating some wiley sheep.  Thus, it’s gotten late in the year, and doing them in June or July is WAY too late – part of the reason the more recent ones look better is because of the “rise” – the old fleece has basically lifted away and I’m just snipping it away from the new wool’s growth.  For another it’s back-breaking, hot work.  And yet another reason, even though I’m going slow, I’ve made way too many slices (cuts) to their skin.  It was harder in the beginning with the wool tight to the skin, you think you’re scissoring a thick patch of wool when you’ve actually got a snippet of skin in there.  Nothing too dramatic (if I had electric shearers I’m sure I would have had some ‘call the vet’ moments – it happens so fast!), but makes me jumpy for the process.  Practice, I guess, but it’s still a lot of work.  We’ll see.

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Meg, after I finally caught her and sheared her.  She obviously felt better without all that wool. 

Now it’s time to start deciding who stays and who goes after lambing.  I’ve gotten about halfway through the list and still have some tough decisions to make, as I need to get the flock back to about 10 sheep before the winter months.  They’ve pretty much devoured most of the greenery in the pasture, and much of the property as well, and are going through hay at a good clip too – the lambs may only be 40 pounds each, but they are growing youngsters and they eat!

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TJ in the pasture. He is huge!

I have one less to place this week, because unfortunately I lost a lamb recently to an accident with my feeding set up.  It was a freak accident, but also preventable, as most accidents are.  I feed with slow-feeder hay nets inside my big hay feeder.  The lambs have been jumping inside the hay feeder to get at the hay nets and I’m just waiting until they are too big to get in (we’re getting close now!).  The mesh on the nets is 1 ½ – 2 inches, but one of the nets had a hole where a couple of the strands had broken or worn through.  And one of the ram lambs (the polled one) stuck his head in the hole… You can guess the rest.  He struggled to get out and it twisted the net and made it worse.  When I found him he was still warm.  The hardest part of the loss is the knowing if I gone out there to check on them a half hour—or even 15 minutes—earlier I could have saved him.  I’ve been using that net for almost 7 years and I think the hole has been there for at least 3 or 4 years.  Obviously I will fix it now, but it was a tough day, and though I’m getting over the guilt I will always feel responsible.  I shared the incident with folks on one of my sheep forums on Facebook and it helped immensely to do so.  Not only are people kind and sympathetic, but so many shared similar stories – even nearly identical stories – of freak losses, which was enormously helpful to hear.  Stories about something that had been in the farm environment for years and the one intrepid or inquisitive sheep (or other critter) found the danger in a seemingly benign object or setup – it happens.  I buried the 20170713_181911little guy out back, and covered him with his mother’s fleece (she’s the scurf queen on a good year and especially with the late shearing this year; the fleece was basically destined for the compost so I was very glad to have it for this use) before covering him with soil.  It helped a lot, and brought some closure to the incident.  The other, farmer-practical part of me realizes I really need to learn to butcher.  He was small, but I could have salvaged something for the dogs at least.  Farm life.

P.S.  I haven’t heard a Swainson’s thrush song since Saturday night.  I guess we’re done for the season. Sigh.

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Pebbles’ ewe lamb.  I am smitten with her.  A keeper, for sure.

 

 

The dawn chorus and my annual amnesia

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Summer Solstice Eve

It’s happening again, and I’m fully aware of it. I work harder each day to remember the whole year, the mud, the rain, the unease, the borderline despair that I feel during our long, wet Pacific NW winters. Those dark and dreary days, with the paltry 8.5 hours of “daylight” between sunrise and sunset times (we never see the sun, so I take it on faith that it’s out there) marked by sludgy grey clouds that even when they’re not leaking oppress and depress. The lights are on in the house all day long, the dogs come in wet and muddy on most days, and feeding the livestock in the rainy dark after work the chickens look miserable and the sheep look bored and as full of discontent as I feel.

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These are the skies I long for in December.

But I knew it would happen. It always does. After 7 months of rainy, dismal weather, and epic amounts of mud we’ve come into our season of splendor. We’re just moving out of jungle season (also magnificent) and now it’s settling into the rhythms of 16 hours of daylight (squeeee!) versus its opposite in December, and all the wonder and abundance of a fecund spring. Never mind that today (it’s the last few hours of summer solstice as I write this) is pretty much the saddest day of the year. Sure, it’s the longest day of the year, but it’s also the turning point where the days start to roll back, getting shorter and we begin losing daylight by increments, heading back to that dismal darkness. But for now we will dance in the sun and revel in the song and forget about that long, stressful winter. Instead, I will spend my days here soaking up all the goodness, settling into my wonderful little hillside on a sunny day like a broody hen settling onto a clutch of eggs, content to just sit and watch and listen to the glory of creation as it unfolds in panoramic vision—the bees being probably the most joyous visual expression of what I feel—and all of it to a exaltation of surround-sound. For it is Songbird Season, and I love songbirds.

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The package hive has been going like gangbusters, and filled their deep so I added a super so they have more room. 

Even now, with the windows only opened a crack I hear them.  Though today was warm, it’s been chilly for the past couple weeks—a normal, gloomy and damp PNW June—but I keep the windows open just so I can hear the birds. The calls, the chirps, and the songs.  Oh, the songs. The thrushes have all the others beat as far as melody and pleasing (to the human ear) song, though the Black-headed grosbeak and Song sparrow aren’t too shabby.  I think the Swainson’s thrushes and the robins (also a thrush) just can’t be beat though, for not only are their flute-like songs beautiful, they are positively incessant throughout the day (and they seem to be the most abundant). None of the other birds save the Dark-eyed juncos (a raspy tweee, not too melodious but not unpleasant) do much more than a few songs throughout the day.  Or maybe they’re just drowned out by the thrush songs.

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Red huckleberries – the robins, Swainson’s thrushes, and Western tanagers love these, and I’ve got lots of them to share.

The dawn chorus starts at about 3:30 a.m., just as the sky begins to lighten, with the twittering of the swallows, already out flying after several hours grounded.  The Swainson’s and robins chime in next, along with the grosbeak, Western tanagers, chickadees, song sparrows, towhees, and dark-eyed juncos. Other birds I hear throughout the day but don’t seem to sing much: the hummingbirds (a sharp chip-chip), Steller’s jays (wik-wik-wik-wik-wik!), crows and ravens (rawk), and the woodpeckers—hairy, downy, pileated, sapsuckers and flickers—plus the occasional raptor – osprey, red tailed hawks, and eagles (the vultures are pretty silent), or duck from the valley.

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When I come home from work the birdsong is like a balm, soothing jangled nerves after a long day at work and a gnarly commute. I change clothes quickly and head outside with the dogs, finding myself drawn to the woods, where the high canopy feels like a cathedral, and the songs are more soothing than any choir. It feels similar to the siren song of the old seafaring legends – where you are helpless to resist (though without the dire consequences, thankfully!). I am entranced, mesmerized, rapt, and spellbound, lured ever deeper into the woods to stand beneath the trees by some unseen singer, a bit of bone and blood and feathers, weighing barely more than a couple of medium-sized strawberries. The robins, one of the largest of all the songbird species that habit this patch of woodland, tips the scales at just under 3 ounces, the Swainson’s thrush a whopping 1.5 ounces, yet the woods are filled with their giant song. The robins have a huge repertoire, and there are some similarities to the Swainson’s song, but the Swainson’s, that furtive bit of greenish brown feathers, is the one that I wait for all year, their upward-spiraling flute song stretching an aural web as far as the ear can hear – close and crisp, and distant and haunting, overlapping, echoing and answering, a treasure of acoustic jewels for the lucky listener.

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Sunset on the solstice. 9:09 p.m.

In the long evenings I sit on my deck writing, and reveling at being surrounded by all I love, by place. The sheep are grazing the property, moving around in a cohesive flock; the chickens wander around, scratching and pecking, gobbling up fresh greens and all the insects they can catch; the dogs, dirty but blissfully free of mud, snooze like bearskin rugs around me, stretched out at my feet, farm-dog grubby and content. And all of it to the soundtrack of birdsong. The little male junco, in the tree near the deck, tweeeeing. The dapper Spotted towhee in the thick undergrowth, singing his buzzy trill. The robins with their myriad songs and calls high in the maples, and above it all the little prince, the salmonberry bird, my Swainson’s thrush in his deceptively drab olive-brown feathering, always hidden, and always singing, singing, singing.  I am captivated.

 

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