September was warm and dry, with less than an inch of rain for the entire month. The contrast with our deluge-inal spring is startling; it will seem very strange if this long dry spell ends up drawing the annual precipitation average back toward “normal”. One thing about Missouri weather, it’s a textbook lesson in the danger of relying on averages for accurate information about a system.
Monarch caterpillars were present, though we saw fewer caterpillars than last year, in spite of allowing lots of Common Milkweed to grow for their benefit. I (Joanna) found the Hermit Sphinx (Sphinx eremitus) caterpillar on wild bergamot while pulling snakeroot in a goat paddock. The black spot did an impressively good job of making this look like an empty, hollowed out shell of plant or animal origin, perhaps a form of mimicry to convince predators that there’s nothing to eat here. It almost tricked me, but a second look convinced me this was a caterpillar worth bringing back to the house for ID and a picture. Since it eats mint family plants, I decided to keep it in a jar with some munchies from the herb garden. Turns out that the specimen had been visited by a parasitoid wasp, perhaps Cotesia congregata? Interestingly, the Hermit Sphinx’s relatives, the tomato-eating Tobacco Hornworms have been minimally present this year. Perhaps we can thank parasitoids for that?
This post also appeared in the October 2015 issue of the Columbia Audubon Society’s newsletter, The Chat, which Eric edits.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers used to be one of our favorite local birds. Colorful and flamboyant, they enliven our feeder in winter and patrol our woods in summer. We love how they chase Blue Jays away from the birdseed yet leave smaller birds alone, how they sidle along our porch railing with heads cocked, how they stash food in the woods through a conveyor belt of looping flights. Their brash and distinctive calls enrich our soundscape year-round. While conducting timber stand improvements in our woods, we’ve left abundant dead snags to support the woodpecker population. Then came the great fruit massacre of 2015.
The remarkable thing about August was the pleasant stretch of weather late in the month, with highs not exceeding the low 80s and lows not exceeding the mid 60s. We enjoyed many lovely August dinners on the porch, amazed by the comfortable temperature and low humidity. Typically, Missouri August comes with amazing food and miserable weather, so to enjoy eating August food in pleasant weather outdoors was a delight! Precipitation moderated in August (in comparison to the soggy months preceding it), though the month managed to give us both too little and too much rain. The bulk of the month’s rain came in a 2.89” one-morning dump, with the rest of the month contributing only about three-quarters of an inch, for a grand total of 3.67”. All in all, not a bad month, given what this state is capable of serving up. We haven’t hit 100ºF all summer (and we’re hoping it stays that way).
Which of these things is not like the others? The answer is below the break (along with many more photos).
We recorded 8.79″ of rain in July, making it a soggy month overall, but for the first time since early May we finally had dry spells longer than 3 days. We welcomed the return of hoe-able ground. The heat and humidity were rather oppressive, but we managed to take a wide variety of photos when we ventured into the outdoors.
The month of June has been brought to us by the letters R, A, I, N, and the symbols @$#!. This has been an awfully wet period for much of our region, starting after the first week of May, in which round after round of rain keeps sweeping through. This has caused all sorts of agricultural headaches, including supercharged weed growth, plant disease, soil erosion, muddy farm roads, and soggy, un-hoe-able soil preventing us from planting, maintaining, and harvesting crops for sale or personal use. We’ve been keeping on-farm precipitation records since late 2009; here’s what the cumulative rainfall numbers look like for each year starting at the beginning of May:
While other years had higher totals at times, they also all had longer periods between rainfall events, providing a chance to dry out and get work done. This year, after the first week of May, only TWICE have we gone three days in a row without measurable rainfall, and the daily totals are often heavy. We’re not regretting our sabbatical from the CSA this year, as it’s been stressful enough managing the land under these conditions without the added pressure of biweekly harvest and deliveries.
Nevertheless, we experienced a lot of interesting natural phenomena in June, and took a lot of photos, so read on for an illustrated tour of the farm’s ecosystem during this time of year.
A late April dry spell continued into the first week of May, overlapping almost perfectly the time we would otherwise have expected to find morels. Our farm-total morel count this year was one (technically in late April). Then it turned wet and has remained so; we recorded rain on 18 days of the month. Temperatures were remarkably pleasant, with the warmest days in the low 80s. Despite the overall cool weather, it did not frost in May. Our last spring frost was the morning of April 28, though we just escaped frost on May 20 thanks to persistence in cloud cover. May is always a good month for nature observation; photo highlights below.
What a pleasant month April was this year, with May following its example. Reasonably stable weather and seasonal temperatures made it a joy to be outside. We keep asking why we couldn’t have had a spring like this when farming full-time?
The limited responses to last month’s Natural Events post makes it clear that we can’t justify putting too much time into these going forward (sorry, faraway friends!). However, we also can’t bring ourselves to break continuity with this multi-year journal of observations. So for now we’re going to try to carry on more efficiently. One change we’re making is to omit the bird listing from the monthly post. Not to worry, we’re still keeping bird records, and we look forward to finding another way to present bird data on the website in future.
On Sunday morning, May 3, we’ll be hosting a birding field trip on the farm through the Columbia Audubon Society (CAS). All are welcome on CAS field trips, even if you are not a member of CAS (or a CSA); all that’s required is an interest in nature and birds and a willingness to join us in exploring the diverse habitats of our landscape. The CAS carpool will meet at the Patricia’s parking lot, 900 N Keene St, leaving at 7:30 so we can start birding the farm by 8:00 a.m. If you’d like to come birding, please contact us to reserve your spot.
We’ll spend as much of the morning as necessary to cover the woods, stream, fields, hollows, and other habitats in search of interesting birds. If time and interest allow, we may also visit nearby natural areas including Pinnacles Youth Park and/or Rocky Fork Conservation Area. No experience is necessary, just an interest in birds and a desire to enjoy the spring landscape. We have a couple of spare pairs of binoculars available if needed.
This is a great time of year for birding, as the leaves aren’t fully out, allowing easier observation in treetops. Migratory warblers and other birds are beginning to pass through; new arrivals in the past few weeks include Kentucky Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Indigo Bunting, Scarlet Tanager (abundant this year!), Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Eastern Towhee, and many more. Understand that this is a birding trip, not a farm tour per se, so the focus will be on wildlife and nature rather than agricultural interpretation.
If you’re interested in other such trips, the CAS website hosts the official listing for all upcoming trips, as do the monthly newsletters which Eric edits. In two weeks. we’ll be leading a similar trip to Goatsbeard Farm and Sullivan Farms, northwest of Columbia, and there are many more opportunities to get out and enjoy birding with other like-minded folks.
We were away for part of March, so the bird list has a few gaps in it, and there aren’t many photos to share. This provides us with an opportunity to ask readers for some feedback on our monthly natural events posts.
We started this series many years ago with several goals: to help us track observations and changes in our surroundings, to demonstrate that farming can happen in concert with environmental awareness, and to engage customers in the natural context of their food’s source. We hoped we would gain and retain customers who wanted to support farmers who paid attention to the natural world, and weren’t “just” farmers. Putting these posts together, though generally enjoyable, does take a fair amount of time and focus. It’s not clear to us how many customers or readers really value the result. We can keep track of birds, photos, and observations off-line, too, so if there isn’t a concrete value to the extra work of packaging these data onto the web, we’re questioning how or whether to keep doing it. So we’re interested in hearing any feedback on the content, format, or value of these posts to anyone who’s reading. Comments or emails are fine. In the meantime, read on for March 2015. Continue reading
Cold and annoying, we won’t miss February, although we have little to complain about compared to certain other parts of the US. Daily walks turned up a few interesting phenomena, including the bird wing print and mantis egg case shown below.