September was a gorgeous month, seasonal and pleasant, with mostly enough rain though it began to dry out again toward the end. The southward fall migration of birds truly began, with many new species passing through. Lots of other life reappeared after the deeply welcome soaking rains of ex-Hurricane Isaac at the beginning of the month, and we were able to take many good photos of interesting and diverse natural life. All in all it was a really nice month to work outdoors and take pleasure in the biodiversity of this farm. Photos & bird list after the break.
Predators of rodents and rabbits are especially welcome here. We’re pretty sure above left is a Great Plains Rat Snake; if so it’s the first adult we’ve identified on the farm (we need to count the spots on one of our photos to be sure). The Barred Owl above right has recently adopted our fields, patrolling our fencelines daily and becoming quite used to our presence (I’ve gotten within 15′ of it multiple times). It left a rabbit leg in the cowpeas one day as a reminder of its value to the farm.Beneficial insects are a welcome sight, too. Preying Mantises and Garden Spiders devour pests (like the stink bug at center). The Dung Beetle at upper right was an especially exciting find near our current goat shelter, as these native beetles are threatened by conventional agriculture despite their significant benefits to pasture & soil health. As this MU Extension publication points out:
Dung beetles do more than make short work of cowpats littering pastures. “They improve soil structure, help control flies and other livestock pests, and recycle nutrients that otherwise would be lost,” said Wayne Bailey, MU Extension state entomologist…Dung beetles once were far more plentiful on American pastures, but the widespread use of certain drugs to worm cattle turned the manure of treated livestock into a lethal environment for the beetles.
One of our long-term goals as we work to restore & improve this worn-out farm is to encourage the return of dung beetles. This is one reason we do the significant extra work it takes to manage our goat herd without any chemical wormers (almost four years now), and as this is the second dung beetle we’ve seen, there is hope our efforts are starting to pay off. This is the kind of long-term, background ecological management that we hope CSA members value as part of their support for this farm, even if it doesn’t show up directly in a produce share.
Even obscure creatures, like this unidentified red mite and Gold Moth caterpillar, hold interest for us as parts of the complex system we live within. Note: Joanna identified this caterpillar with the help of Caterpillars of Eastern North America, a fantastic Princeton guide we heavily recommend to all gardeners, farmers, and naturalists. Wildflowers add color and interest to the landscape even now, after a long and severe drought, as do the scattered patches of fall color developing (below left, maple; below right, sumac).Wild fruits have mostly suffered this year; the wild blackberries & black raspberries had a very heavy fruit-set this spring, but all shriveled and died as the drought intensified, leaving us very disappointed. However, a few weeks ago Eric noticed that the wild grapes along our pond had set fruit very heavily, presumably drawing water from the pond all summer, and harvested 15 lb in a short time. After some work and unintended mess (more on that in a future post), we ended up with some spectacular wild grape jelly.
As always, September became far more active on the birding front as many species began to migrate southward again. Fall is a fun and challenging time for birding, as both songs and plumage are less distinct than in spring. While this means we’re not always able to identify something, it’s also the kind of challenge that really increases birding skill & knowledge. Almost half the species we recorded on the farm this month were new since August, adding new interest to every day as we never know what will show up next.
RECORDED IN SEPTEMBER (55 species, 24 new, 7
unobserved since August)
Great Horned Owl
Black-throated Green Warbler