Bird list & natural events, August 2012

August was even drier than July until ex-Hurricane Isaac showed up on the 31st. Overall it was a bit cooler, particularly early in the month, but several stretches of mid-high 90s and low humidity contributed significantly to drought stress in both plants and farmers here. We’re starting to see long-term signs of damage, such as lots of dead or dying trees in the woods. This winter may generate many years of firewood for us, and we’d all better hope no ice storms strike. Birds were surprisingly active and we felt that in many cases we saw lower insect populations than expected, with the exception of spotted cucumber beetles. While we’re glad to have this month behind us, our ability to observe and interact with so much that’s happening in the farm’s ecosystem is a major personal benefit to the way we live and farm.

HURRICANE ISAAC
Arriving on the 31st, Isaac royally screwed up everyone’s drought statistics in what was otherwise a near-record dry month. We recorded only .09″ of rain during the first 30 days, just above the Columbia record, then received 2.23″ on 8/31 and 0.41″ on 9/1. This storm turned out perfectly for us, with all that rain coming gently over enough time to thoroughly soak in with little to no runoff or damage. The system’s core meandered right over us without doing much after the first day, while the outer bands soaked other areas with six inches or more. You can see this pattern in the August rainfall map shown below (courtesy of the National Weather Service), which shows the percentage normal rainfall for August. But for Isaac, all of the state would have looked like that desperate 5-10% area up in Nebraska. As it was, much of Missouri (including us) still only got 50% or less normal rainfall, and it took a dying hurricane to achieve even that. Black dot shows our location for non-local readers.

While this event alone won’t “break” the drought (as some media are claiming) given that we were about a foot of rain below normal, it’s a very welcome adjustment. According to NWS models, Isaac may also have (at least temporarily) broken up the wider climate pattern that’s been locking us into this drought all summer. There are now multiple rounds of thunderstorms and cooler weather forecast for the coming week and beyond.

AUGUST NATURE PHOTOS
Lots of insects are desperate for pollen sources, which our crop diversity provides fairly effectively. We felt very bad having to turn in several plots of buckwheat (above center and right) for fall planting, as they were shimmering with insect life using the flowers at a time that native flowers were sparse.

A moth & snail demonstrate the random but interesting biology we run across on a daily basis.We found this Kentucky Warbler trapped in the greenhouse one evening, and released it, though not before enjoying a gentle close-up look. Above right, this emerging cicada (thankfully not to scale with the warbler) was another really interesting find.This Ruby-Throated Hummingbird was also a greenhouse-capture. They’re such amazing birds and it’s a rare treat to get a really close-up look at one. This one seemed to have tired itself out trying to get out of the greenhouse, and it sat just long enough to snap a few photos. We also found a hummingbird nest near one of our barns, and retrieved it for posterity once the birds had finished with it.We’ve had our remote trail-camera set up on the pond’s bank for much of the month, as this was the only remaining source of open water on the farm. Sure enough, we captured a lot of interesting activity. In the paired photos above, taken two weeks apart (mid and late August), note how rapidly the water line is retreating, and how quickly the plants are browning as that happens.The biggest find of the month, a mink caught on infrared visiting the pond one night. We have very mixed reactions to this: on one hand it’s a really neat animal to add to our biodiversity; on the other hand it’s a serious chicken predator that’s harder to stop than larger animals like raccoons. So far, so good, but improving the security of the chicken house just moved a few notches up the to-do list.Lots of birds rely on the pond, as well. While most are difficult to capture on camera, this Pileated Woodpecker (above left) was a nice surprise. Turkeys show up here every few afternoons, alone or in small groups.Other regular visitors include raccoons and deer. The former have become less of a crop problem lately for whatever reason, while thankfully deer have just not been an issue for us yet this year. If these latest raccoons will leave our crops alone, we’re happy to leave them alone. The night after a coon raided the dent corn, we put some peanut butter on the electric fence in a spot that we thought was the weak point. Next morning, the peanut butter was gone. And that corn patch hasn’t been disturbed since. Hopefully the coon got a good jolt, learned its lesson, and is willing to peacefully coexist with us.

This month’s bird list is virtually the same as July, though there have been changes in bird behavior over the month. Goldfinches and Chickadees became really active toward the end of the month, while the Broad-Winged Hawks, Summer Tanagers, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos have all but vanished lately. All woodpeckers have gotten really active toward the end of the month; we wonder if all the stressed and dying trees in the woods are benefiting them.

RECORDED IN AUGUST (38 species, 3 new, 9 unobserved since July)
Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Canada Goose
Turkey Vulture
Red-Shouldered Hawk
Broad-Winged Hawk (vanished mid-month; we wonder if their chick died)
Wild Turkey (regular visitor to pond mid-afternoon)
Killdeer
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (vanished early in month)
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
Common Yellowthroat
Summer Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch
Blue Grosbeak
Bald Eagle
Common Nighthawk
Cedar Waxwing

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