Mowing. Finally. 

One of my favorite sounds of spring and summer is the song of the Meadowlark. That sweet whistling tune makes me smile every time I hear it. This year they nested in our field. Starting a few years ago they were around, nesting in surrounding fields and sharing their songs. Now they nest right here in our meadow. By mid-July, chicks have fledged. We had a half dozen young birds zipping around, buzzing out their calls rather than their songs, done with nests for now.

Other birds were out of their nests as well–Red-Winged Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows, Bobolinks, Snipes. Birds fledged and Wild Parsnip not yet gone to seed? That means time to cut the field.

I had powered up our tow-behind brush hog in June. I wanted to make sure it started, that the blades spun, that it worked. So when mid-July arrived and the weather cooperated I hooked up the mowing system and got started. Unfortunately, after one pass of one edge of the field, smoke started pouring out of the brush hog. Dang! Busted belt. No more mowing.

There is a repair shop right up the road, so I just kept on going. It was Friday, of course, but they assured me getting parts is pretty quick these days. So I’m thinking they order a belt on Monday, put it on and maybe Wednesday I’m in business, best case scenario. But since I didn’t hear from them I called after a week. They had an estimate for me. Seriously? I’m hoping the thing is ready to go and they haven’t even ordered the belt?

So, giving them the go-ahead, I patiently waited some more. After another week I called again. It was still not done–complications, other parts needed, rust involved. After another couple of calls and another week, it was finally good to go. I picked it up Saturday morning, just before the place closed. It ran like a charm. So I headed out to field, three weeks after I started, Wild Parsnip now starting to go to seed, and started cutting.

I wasn’t sure just how much I could get done that day, but after about eight hours, I had most of it cut. It was a long afternoon/evening. I had planned to stop by 9:00 pm and stopped about ten minutes before that hour. I probably spread a few Wild Parsnip seeds but not too many, I hope. I left a couple of patches uncut but, since we planned to head out for a week the next day, it would have to do.

The birds were definitely cleared out by the time I started cutting. I missed my window between ground-nesters fledging and seeds falling by a bit but hopefully not by too much. If I can get out there and cut once more this fall, the Parsnip should be checked for this season. That stuff is aggressive and I need to keep at it. What I want is for grasses and native wildflowers to grow. I want better habitat for the birds and more food for the pollinators. It has been a long project and may take a good deal more time yet.

In the meantime I can look out over the cut meadow with relief. I don’t see those tall stalks with yellow flowers turning brown with seeds. I don’t hear much birdsong now, but come spring I look forward to the Meadowlarks, flying low across the greening field,  whistling their tunes once again.

Advertisements

Meadowlark

Blurry but an Eastern Meadowlark Nonetheless

When we moved off the mountain to our home in the valley a few years ago, it gave me a chance to learn some new birds. I knew most of the birds I saw and heard when we lived a couple thousand feet higher, but those birds do not live down here. I learned the bobolink, flitting about the fields, and was happy to know they were fairly abundant. I learned the song sparrow. I got to know the barn swallow. This year I heard a song I had been missing, either because it was not there, or because I simply wasn’t paying attention. I thought it was a meadowlark.

So I looked it up with the power of the internets. Sure enough, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and its All About Birds web site, I checked the song I was hearing with a recorded one. Eastern Meadowlark is what we had. I kept looking for them and not seeing them. I would hear the yellowish rascal but not see it craftily hiding in the tall grass. See See SEE-yeer. I saw one today, however.

I sat drinking my foamy coffee drink, eating raspberries and peaches with yogurt and granola, when I heard the call. I mean, I literally heard the call, of the meadowlark. So I scanned the field with binos and eventually saw the little dude poking his head up and singing. It kept popping up and down in the grass but I got a good enough look to get a visual confirmation of the species.

Meadowlarks are ground nesters, so now we have a dilemma. We plan to cut the field more than once this summer but I would hate to destroy a nest. They take around 4 weeks from laying eggs to the young flying solo, so I guess as long as we give over a month between cuttings we might save a nest or two. Or maybe not, depending on the timing of things. First bobolinks and now meadowlarks. These field nesting birds make for some mental figure eights. We want to cut the field to provide, eventually, hay for local cows. We also want to cut it to reduce the amount of wild parsnip we have. That plant pretty much takes over and is a nasty invasive that can cause terrible skin burns, so we want it gone from here if we can help it. But the birds…

I do not want to drive away the meadowlarks (or bobolinks or song sparrows) but I do want to cut the field. We will have to monitor the birds to see that we do as little damage as possible. It is good to know that these birds are definitely here. I would hate to push them out just as I am getting to know them.

Tractors Getting the Job Done

My son and I took a walk this afternoon to see if we could spot any interesting critters, like we did yesterday. No dice. Too sunny and too hot. The critters were all holed up. We did, however, see a neighbor plowing his fields, ready to plant corn.

Digging Things Up

Then another neighbor came by to ask if he could cut our field. He wants to cut it for hay but it needs some work before that can happen. There isn’t much grass but there is a lot of other plant life. I took a walk while he went to get his tractor to see if there were any ground nests. My hesitation with cutting the field this early is nesting bobolinks. They seem to like the adjacent fields better than ours, however, and we are clear of bobolink nests for the time being.  I did see a couple of the warbling birds just beyond our field but none were hanging out in ours.

Bobolink in the Shrubbery

So he mowed. With the big honking tractor, unlike the one we used ourselves to mow in the past, the one that now seems what one might call wee, it took less than two hours. It took us eight to ten hours with the smaller tractor. He got the job done before we knew it, waved and headed back up the road.

Upper Part of the Field

Lower Part of the Field

The gulls had a time with it, picking up the mice that tried to run away. Poor mice. This is the first of perhaps three cuts for the summer. Eventually, we hope, grass will outcompete the “weeds” and will fill in the meadow. Then, bail it and feed it to the cows over the hill.

It looks all right, and it smells great. And I can’t say I will miss the wild parsnip that was starting to get way too tall. That stuff is trouble, and I am happy to see the fat stems of that invasive plant get chopped. Let’s see some timothy take its place. That will feed some animals. Even better than the mice fed the gulls.

Like I said, poor mice.