"I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free." ~Wendell Berry

Friday, March 19, 2021

Smell That Smoke?

The title of this blogpost is a phrase that is normally used by BBQ restaurants, but when you smell smoke here on Gobbler's Knob; we're usually burning the prairie. And, it's usually not an accident - it's a result of a few years of cajoling and convincing the Fire Chief that it's time.

Way back in Winter & Spring of 2019, then again in 2020, we missed the opportunity to burn our first prairie installation (according to Mr. Freeze -but, I think he was just stalling-ha!). I was bummed. The original prairie hadn't been burned since 2013 and the east field hadn't been burned since 2014. We had bought an old hay rake and had been raking off the duff every year, but nothing beats prairie rejuvenation like a good, hot fire. 

So, in Fall, 2020 Mr. Freeze knew he could not put it off for another year. There was going to be a major burn on Gobbler's Knob before the plants started to emerge this year - he could either be part of the planning...or be surprised when he saw the flames. We waited & we watched the weather. I watched all the major MDC and MPF burns and reminded him almost daily. We had learned our lessons from previous burns - make good, wide firebreaks, wait until the wind was right and don't mow it down until you're ready to throw a match. 

FINALLY, we had a week of dry weather and with the reassurance of assistance from one of my best friends, Cindy and her husband Rob, Bob quickly mowed the field on March 6th and refreshed the firebreaks.

Plenty of dry fuel for the burn. The view from south of the pond.

The fire crew arrived early on March 7th and our fire chief (Bob) tries to corral everyone so he can teach them how to use the tools, sprayers, etc. We all look like we're paying attention, right?

Enough training - let's throw a match - we'll make it up as we go along. The wind was perfect - 5-10 mph, solid & steady from the southwest. But Bob and I have seen this rodeo before, so Cindy and I started burning the northern firebreak and working our way to the west - just in case the wind decided to change direction. Low & slow.

We left Rob to attend the very high-fuel area. He's got water and is partnered with the Fire Chief. Notice the nice back-burn slowly snaking its way across the dried grass?

The men worked their way southward down the eastern firebreak, while Cindy and I worked our way towards the firebreak to the West, finally turning southward, along the western firebreak..., only about 10 minutes behind the east crew.

 Bob & Rob's line looks like it died out - is that why they're standing there leaning on their rakes?

Then, the inevitable happened - it was as if the Wind Gods knew that Cindy and I were having a great time...taking our time. The wind direction shifted and it was suddenly coming straight from the East. Blowing a head-fire right towards our west line that wasn't quite completed yet. And Cindy needed to refill her sprayer. I looked up and saw this re-invigorated fire line coming at us, so I started dragging fire at a slow trot, trying to not look too panicked and I glanced over to see Cindy quickly refilling her sprayer.

For one brief second, I thought we would get a reprieve as the wind whipped around again.

Nope, keep dragging girl...faster.  Where's that water sprayer?

And then, as quickly as it started, the wind changed again.  Cindy and I had reached our corner fire break and the neighborhood was safe once more from the firebugs on Gobbler's Knob.

The wind shifted to come directly from the West and we had our own head-fire excitement for a few minutes, but no reason to panic - the firebreaks can contain this now and we can hang out & enjoy.

We were so comfortable with the containment now that Cindy could take a video. She's so good at it! Good grief - I sound like a child - "I saved a wooley worm"! Oh well, I'm not going to edit the video - it's the way I am and everyone should know this about me. We had a blast - thank you, Cindy & Rob for helping us. We would have been in good company if we had ended up in jail for burning down the county - fortunately, thanks to your help, we didn't!

The completed burn - approximately 2.5 acres. I can't wait to see what it looks like this Spring!

View from the south east corner.

The eastern firebreak. The specimen garden (where I planted numerous specimens from which I can gather various seeds to share), burned very thoroughly.

We also burned the "East Field" while we had the benefit of Cindy and Rob's help.

View from the south of the burned East field.

View from the north of the burned East field.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Purple Martin Season 2021 Has Begun

My first purple martin 'scout' of this new season arrived on March 8th, 2021. It was 65 degrees and winds were out of the southwest - great migration weather. The awful polar vortex that hit the southern states just as migration began created a worrisome start this year with thousands of birds dying, including untold numbers of purple martins that had just literally landed at their home sites. 

But it appears that some things are returning to normal and it was such a joy to see her circling my colony Monday afternoon. I still haven't seen any bluebirds since I found 3 dead in a nestbox on Feb. 13th. I also usually have tree swallows that arrive with my first purple martin, but I still have not seen one of those yet.

Missouri landlords should be raising their houses now - you can check out the Purple Martin Scout Arrival map live at this link to see if there are any reports submitted near your area. If you would like to report your own arrivals, you can use this link and create an account if you need to to enter your data.


This is today's map (my report is the purple dot with the red circle around it).

I hope you have a great season and as always, you can reach me via this blog by commenting below or email me at purplemartin @ centurytel dot net.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Building an Owl Excluder for Purple Martin Systems


This year will be my 7th year having to deal with a Great Horned Owl and a Barred Owl here on Gobbler's Knob. The first couple of years were tough and we almost threw in the towel. But, with lots of support from other landlords who have 'been there, done that, got the t-shirt', we have reached an (un)-easy alliance with the owls.
Since many landlords either are in the same situation, or soon will be, I decided to make a video describing exactly how we built the cages that protect our purple martin systems. I've listed the materials and I also address some of the most common questions that we commonly receive each year about the cages.
Here are a few of the many videos I've recorded of the GHO attacking my colony. I did not arrive at deciding upon this solution easily - it was difficult and a lot of work.  If anything else would have worked, I would have done that first. But this was ultimately the only solution that saved my colony.
GHO attacks Trendsetter and gourd rack: https://youtu.be/RexdpWmqgLY

Building an Owl Excluder for Purple Martin Systems



Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Forgotten Territory

We have lived here for almost 14 years now and we have largely ignored this ravine that becomes a riparian zone during the spring and fall rains. There are huge amounts of water that flow through this carved-out valley where we have just let nature do its thing. Yesterday, with snow on the ground, Bob decided to take me on a tour. The ravine runs about 40' to 65' wide in various areas and about 660' long - approximately .6 acres. 

Since I had never explored this part of our property, it was like entering a secret, magical kingdom. Our two owls - the Great Horned Owl and the Barred Owl, frequently take refuge from the crows in the trees that have managed to survive here. As we walked though, my excitement of sneaking through a new magical forest quickly turned to dismay. We found the mother-lode source of the invasive Japanese honeysuckle problems we've been having. As well as the likely 'mother' green-briar plants that are producing all the berries that the birds are planting all over the property. While green-briar is native, it can still be viciously wicked with all its sharp spines.

Today, since the weather was still cold and the ground still frozen, we decided to go in armed with a hatchet, limb cutters, trimmers and other tools and make a brutal assault on the honeysuckle. In this corridor, the green-briar and the honeysuckle have apparently teamed up to support each other and this is going to be a brute force project to remove it all.

To the south- that is currently a 'no-fly' zone, as the still-green honeysuckle is intertwined with the multi-flora rose and I just didn't have the energy to go that way.

So, let's head north.

 We cut all the vines at the bottom - it was disappointing how many trees the honeysuckle has already strangled here. For some, the thick mats of honeysuckle vines and the canopy of leaves they created over the top of the trees proved too much and a lot of the trees had succumbed. We didn't bother pulling the vines down (yet). It was enough to know that we've exacted a toll on them for now.

It was bewildering at times to even know where to begin.

We think this is either an ash or a cherry tree, with an almost equal-sized vine of poison ivy growing up the trunk. Can you spot the poison ivy?


See the picture below - the poison ivy is outlined with the white box. Unbelievable. Well, given my reaction to poison ivy...it can stay. For now.

This looks like something from an Indiana Jones movie. Or maybe a Tarzan movie. I'm hoping that we killed vast swathes of honeysuckle that is choking out the canopy above by cutting these off.

I think I need a machete.

One example of how the Green-briar and honeysuckle have teamed up against me. I swear they know I'm coming; they tense up and when I cut them, they snap and fly by my face ...as if that would stop me.

We have other projects that we haven't finished yet, and I'm trying hard not to be distracted by this new issue. But, if you want to relieve your stress, whacking your way through this kind of mess is one way to do it. We still have more to do in here, but at least now we have a passable path through. At some point, we will get to do the fun part - figuring out which native plants we can use to restore this area.

I'm usually not someone to cry 'UNCLE', but we may have to call in reinforcements for the rest of this. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Dear Prairie - While You Were Sleeping

Winter is our time for burning, planning, planting and clearing even more areas to prepare them for the native plantings of forbes and grasses. With over 23 acres of soil available, we have an endless canvas where we can plant and then later, enjoy the summer blooming parties that result from so many varieties of plants.

Each fall, as all the trees are starting to shake off their summer leaves and the flowers are starting to make seeds, I start visiting the Hamilton Native Seed and Missouri Wildflowers websites and perusing their catalogs. This year, I found a new educational resource - I signed myself up for the Missouri Prairie Foundation's webinars via Zoom and yowza, are they fantastic! With Covid-19 lockdown and winter encroaching, now's the time for me to educate myself, read everything I can and discover new planting opportunities so we can provide more diversity in our native plantings. Thanks to MPF and Missouri Wildflowers, this year we decided to try something new - we now have over 40 new shrubs planted - wild hydrangea, ninebark, and witch hazel planted & hunkered down under leaf-mulch...waiting to spring their beautiful flowers on us this spring.

And thanks to Hamilton Seed and my own seed-gathering techniques (which consists of one step -  outrun the birds), I have over 4 oz. of a variety of coneflower seeds (at 7,000 seeds/oz., I'm pretty proud of myself!) and almost 1 full pound of my full-sun native wildflower mix too (see the hand-written labels on the bags in the picture below). These orders I make are my Christmas presents to myself...thousands of wildflower seeds. Thousands...maybe millions. Gazillions...all to be planted this winter.

This is another quarter-acre area that we cleared - where one bag of the above wildflower seeds has already been spread. And it's right outside my home-office window!
We've also started tackling the non-native Japanese honeysuckle. Ugggh, what a pain it is. Below is a picture of a sprout (probably Sumac) that finally gave up. The honeysuckle had wrapped itself so tightly around the trunk that it created these permanent twists in the trunk. Behold the strength and the impact of the non-native, for they are indeed impressive, but now, we need to rip it out.
I love winter, almost as much as I love fall. I can walk all the trails, even when covered with ice or snow and not be attacked by chiggers or ticks. It's a time when I can see everything from a different perspective. The ice-laden branches of the sandbar willows create their own beautiful reflections over the pond.

The cedar trees whine about the ice & cold as their branches droop, threatening to snap off, as the surrounding Sassafras and Ash trees stand tall and proud, bragging that their branches stand UP to such brutal weather, while simultaneously laughing at their sagging evergreen neighbors.

As I walked yesterday, I recalled the pictures I took this past summer and thought it would be fun to compare the summer versus winter pictures from the same perspective. Winter is part of their normal cycle - the plants take time to rest, the soil re-saturates from the rainfall & snow (measured in feet here in the fall, winter & spring), the ground heaves and contracts to absorb the seeds dropped by all the plants and the seeds that need it, as they are stratified, in preparation for growing a new plant in the spring. It is a time to shake off the past year, renew and change things - to try again to do better in the New Year.

The Sandbar willows on the pond:


Pond-winter 2021 


The Goldenrod and Indian Grass - Winter:


 The same patch this past August / September:

The West Trail around the pond, Winter:


The same West Trail, this past August / September:

   Part of the prairie, Winter:

The same part of the prairie was rioting this summer in June & July with coneflowers, prairie blazing start, Wild quinine, compass plant, etc.:

To some, this winter perspective may look like quite the dreary landscape. But for me, this landscape it quite exciting and holds a lot of secrets that will be revealed in the spring. 

Rest & renew, Dear Prairie. Bob and I have been busy this winter, so make sure you say, "Hello" to your new neighbors this Spring and let them know how much you love your happy home here on Gobbler's Knob.