Monday, April 07, 2014

Timberdoodle or Conserving the Grasslands

A few smudges of low-lying cloud, curled and shuffled by daybreak breezes.

Almost-silhouette of a bold-singing robin, so dark yet, too dark for color or light. Still, I can find him by the denser darkness where he perches, not twenty feet from my head.

Off to the south in the old horse pasture, a soft, nasal peent! resonates gently.

It is so noisy here that it isn't easy to hear, but he's out there.......the timberdoodle.

Also known as the American woodcock, one of our favorite birds of early spring.

I think he actually returned the day before yesterday. Thought I might have heard a whisper of sky dance wings just before dawn. 

Yesterday I was sure. He whirled and whistled right above my head as I walked the other doodle, Daisy the Doodlebop dog, as Alan calls her.

Sheer delight. There is nothing else to name it. Like the deepest mystery of the wild woods come calling at our doorstep.He is so welcome to his little corner of our pasture and the tiny, icy pond.

 I have a friend who writes often, of the grassland farming of Upstate NY and what it has to offer birds and wildlife. Not too many yards...certainly not enough...from our eastern boundary looms a housing development, row upon row of matching houses on tiny lawns carved out of field and forest that was also once a farm.

Mention has been made over the years that Northview Farm would fit right in with the developer's plans, room for hundreds and hundreds more little boxes of humanity.

Imagine, should we be unable to hang on to this ground, or should the kids have to sell it when we are under it, what that would mean for the birds and animals that share it with us. 

As I sit here this morning, typing at my kitchen table, I hear robins, white-throated sparrows, chickadees, the woodcock, the Carolina wren and others that have slipped my mind. By the time the sun comes up many other species will join the list. 

Just here at the house, we have five kinds of woodpeckers, nuthatches, finches, a lingering list of the northern sparrows, and literally dozens of others. 

Well over sixty species are counted here on the farm each year. 

Just yesterday I saw something BIG! and white! And flapping across my view from the living room windows. Alas I didn't have my glasses on, but it was either a swan or some kind of heron. Did I mention it was big!

There are more kinds of birds out on the fields proper and a number of species I don't recognize yet, by call or flickering outline, flashing through the leaves. I am sure with more expert ears and eyes than mine the count would hit at least seventy...some breeding, some just passing through or stopping to grab a snack.

The decline of upland birds in America is marked and documented and drastic. A wildlife biologist sat at this very table a few years ago and linked the dramatic decline of the whippoorwill to the decline of small farms. And when is the last time you heard one?

As farms fail, bobolinks, night hawks, and many other once-common species continue to dry up and vanish. I worry.....The number of viable small farms that have given up and gone out has left an alarming panorama of vulnerable acreage just begging for development. Mile upon mile of it. Should the economy by some amazing sleight of hand, somehow fast will the houses follow?

Top twenty common declining birds...some of these used to be common here. Some of them still are.

Whippoorwill research, author of which told me about a lot of this.


Rev. Paul said...

I hadn't heard a whippoorwill in 20+ years, before leaving Missouri in '03. That's just sad.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Sad but true, besides the threat of development the green movement is not good either.

Farm after farm here has went out of business and without the diversity that a small farm brings with its livestock the land becomes stagnant and the birds leave. We have seen it on countless farms that we custom cut the hayfields - can you imagine cutting hay without a swooping bunch of swallows? No manure, no flies, no gnats, no birds...but it's natural by gum.

This book explains a lot of what's going on in our area, a huge push for more nature parks. Scary.

Cathy said...

If I'm very lucky i hear the woodcock on a special walk that is arranged by the local naturalist club. You are so blessed . . .
I really can not imagine the joy of waking up as you do . . where you do . . listening and waiting for the return of spring. Yes. Blessed.

Cathy said...

P.S. Love the capture of your shadow. When I do that . . it's a little haunting . . reminds me of that line in "Out of Africa".
"“If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?”
― Karen Blixen

lisa said...

As always, such a wonderful way with words!

Linda said...

We are miles from civilization and from any sort of chemical sprays and such and I've noticed the decline in our songbird and birds of prey bothers me a lot. You are indeed a wordsmith.

threecollie said...

REv. Paul, I truly can't remember the exact time of the last I heard, but there are certainly decades involved. the nighthawks have gone in just the past few years. It is sad.

Nita,it is so noticeable this time of year. So many gone...

Cathy, wish you could just sit here some warm morning, maybe on the sitting porch, and listen. There are so many...we are blessed. And I liked the shadow too, so I didn't crop it out.

Lisa, thanks!

Linda, it has become so dramatic. I have been on this farm for about thirty years. In that time we have gone from dozens of nesting bobolinks to maybe one or two, same with meadow larks. No more nighthawks at all. No whippoorwills. A lot of the problem starts in South America where the birds are crop pests during our winter, and laws protecting them less stringent. However, I am sure development doesn't do them any good. Where once three vigorous farms operated now there is only ours...and we don't exactly have a clear future just now.