Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Farm Bulletin: Signs of Life
Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm have worked hard to return a diversity of wildlife, including plants, animals and insects, to their land in Gaston and are as committed to its stewardship as they are to the quality of the berries and grains they've become known for.
At the southern end of our berry fields, there is a shallow draw that is uncultivated. It was a dense thicket of Himalayan blackberries when we arrived. So thick, we could walk across the draw atop the tangled mass, and five feet above the ground. It is now mostly grassy. The western slope has dry, thin soils and is covered with the blue blossoms of Brodiaea Douglasii, or wild hyacinth (left), in late spring. For some reason, a small patch of native roses thrived in one part of the eastern slope, and the blackberries were held at bay. We suspect the soil is a bit different, or maybe a bit springy, favoring the roses. In subduing the blackberries, we left the roses alone. They serve as cover for various animals and birds.
Earlier this week, we passed the patch of roses and heard scuffling and the soft alarm notes of quail. There was a covey of 15 to 20 quail. These small birds cannot survive as individuals in the winter. At night, the birds of the covey cluster together to conserve energy. The hen nests on the ground and lays about 12 eggs. The cock keeps watch over her, and in the late afternoon, he returns to the same high perch to call monotonously until dusk. When the chicks hatch, he takes on the role of sentinel as the flock forages. One day, after threshing out some turnip seed, we noticed the ground was covered with worm castings. Odd, we thought. Passing by a second time, the worm castings turned out to be quail droppings. They had tarried to clean up the spilled turnip seed.
California quail (top photo; listen to its call here) are native as far north as southern Oregon and were introduced into the Willamette Valley. Aliens here ourselves, we were happy to see the quail in such good shape. It means we will have a few clutches of quail on the farm this summer. They are not home free, though. Harvesting some sow thistle nearby, Linda Johnson found a scattering of feathers and the remains of a quail's head a couple days later, all very fresh. The pattern is typical of the after-breakfast mess left by hawk, harrier or falcon.