Bird list & natural events, July 2012

July was miserably hot and dry. We recorded just over an inch of rain and temperatures were consistently above average, approaching or setting records numerous times. Just about everything in the natural world appears to be suffering; the understory in our woods is so thin and wilted that we can easily walk through it. Most years our woods are quite thick in mid-summer, contributing to us spending very little time there, but not so under these conditions. There are clusters of young pawpaw trees that look like someone herbicided them. Our pastures are just about done and we butchered all the remaining goat kids while beginning to dry off half the adult milking does. Nevertheless, as always, lots of interesting things were happening in the natural world that we enjoyed observing and learning about.

Last July was hot and dry, too, as this end-of-month market post pointed out. The difference is, last year it was just turning dry in July, a time when mild drought can reasonably be expected in Missouri. This year we’ve having equal or worse conditions, but with months of heat and drought preceding it. In 2011 we were just starting to get worried. This year we’re way past that stage by now. Here are our precipitation records from 2010 onward, presented in cumulative form.

Even though the rain shut off in July 2011, too, it’s been far hotter this year and that exacerbates the situation. Here are the daily temperature data for the past two Julys in Columbia, from the National Weather Service. We’re so glad this month is over. Regardless of what August weather brings, we can rely on the days continuing to get shorter, which gives us more rest and provides less time for the daily heat to stress plants and ourselves.

We’ve noticed a significant lack of natural flowers this year, presumably due to drought. This seems to have the native pollinators rather stressed, as anything resembling flowers or pollen is mobbed by insects. Even our sweet corn is covered in bees and other species. This is another case where a diversified farm holds ecological benefits; our wide variety of agricultural flowers are a real lifeline to drought-stressed pollinating species. This is not true on larger monocultured farms.

In the interest of learning more about wildlife behavior in this drought, we invested in a simple trail camera, something we’ve discussed for years. This is a simple weatherproof camera with a motion-detector that can be set to take photos or video whenever something moves in front of it. The unit records time, date, and temperature with each photo. We set it up at the only remaining watering hole along our stream, and reaped numerous interesting results:

Above left, a coyote visiting right around midnight. Above center, a very nice buck we’d never seen in person, who posed for the camera like a trained model. The camera captured multiple deer, all visiting the water in early-late afternoon. Above right, a red-tailed hawk landing for water (or a snack of something else that came here for water). This last was especially interesting, as we haven’t seen or heard one all month, and were quite surprised to learn that one was using a watering hole deep in the woods. We usually think of these as more open-land birds, but it was recorded here two days in a row. Above left is a typical sight on our stream, a formerly deep water hole now completely dry. Above right, another surprise after setting up the trail camera near our sweet corn to learn more about overnight raccoon behavior (including when and how they raid our traps). To our significant surprise, it captured a young turkey instead, which may explain some of the odd damage we’ve been seeing on low-hanging sweet corn ears: The tips of some ears have been missing–simply snapped off with no other sign of nibbling. We’ve seen a flock of 5 or so young turkeys elsewhere on the farm this month, but never in the vegetable field itself. This image was shot in late afternoon at the peak of a hot day, when I wouldn’t have expected them to be this active. We expect such trail-camera images to be a regular feature of natural event posts from now on; it’s such a useful tool for understanding more about the ecological patterns on the farm.

Birds have been surprisingly active and vocal this month; we ended up with a pretty complete bird list based on potential expectations. The only things really missing are deep-woods species like Ovenbirds, which (a) we often miss this time of year through not going into the woods much, and (b) may be moving to other areas where more water is available.

RECORDED IN JULY (40 species, 5 new, 5 unobserved since May)
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Canada Goose
Turkey Vulture
Red-Shouldered Hawk
Broad-Winged Hawk
Wild Turkey
Killdeer
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Barred Owl
Whip-poor-will
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Great-Crested Flycatcher
White-Eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tufted Titmouse
Black-Capped Chickadee
White-Breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Wood Thrush
Northern Parula
Black-and-White Warbler
Ovenbird
Louisiana Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Summer Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch
Red-winged Blackbird
White-Crowned Sparrow
Blue Grosbeak

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