Finally posting some photos from my Wildlife Tracking and Trailing Course with Nature Guide Training in South Africa, August 2017. More details and photos coming soon…
If anyone is interested in a viewing of an immature Norther Goshawk, please let me know. We are not often graced with the appearance of this rare accipiter, and I feel a need to share the experience with anyone who desires to connect with a bird of prey. Although it has been difficult losing several beloved hens during the past few months, I feel blessed to have been introduced to and humbled by this beautiful species.
Here’s a short clip:
We now have two species enjoying the chicken harvest. We processed and ate one of the hens taken out by the goshawk as well as a few of the flock that didn’t make the cut (older hens no longer laying). Here’s a short clip (warning: may be graphic for some viewers):
I’ve recently been on the lookout for a solid example of gray squirrel striping. Gray squirrels tend to utilize the most gnarly tree in their territory to use as a scenting/marking post, so you’d expect they would be hard to miss. Perhaps my search image is not quite developed enough yet… The only other tree I’ve found in the area with this sign is the distinguished (and diseased) American Chestnut on the Center Trail in Stony Hill which is a very distinctly shaped tree that is hard to go unnoticed, especially being adjacent to the trail. However, I only noticed the gray squirrel striping on its main trunk last winter after I was introduced to this gray squirrel-specific behavior. Below is another example of this behavior that I found in Stony Hill on an oak (also diseased) with a very distinct, large burl. Notice the reddish color on the underside of the burl as well as the darker tint beneath the burl on the lower section of the trunk.
Upon closer inspection, I found the reddish color was actually gray squirrel teeth marks exposing the inner bark. The darker coloration below that is believed to be the result of the squirrel rubbing the side of it’s mouth/cheek on the bark for scenting purposes.
Further along on my adventure, I spotted a gray squirrel scat at the base of another oak, along with some tracks and an exposed acorn cash giving it away.
This may be the most fresh squirrel scat I have found yet.
Along with lots of gray squirrel, perhaps the most abundant track and sign was that of white-tailed deer. Below is a fresh antler scrape on a sapling with the tracks of the buck continuing up the hill to the left. I apologize for the picture quality…
I’m going to do my best to keep these tracking posts coming, especially when we have snow.
My introduction to the Northern goshawk will never be forgotten. I arrived at the farm one morning, and instantly, as I glanced toward the chickens, a large accipiter cruised elegantly above the treeline of the autumn olives and plunged down effortlessly directly into the chicken area. Without a thought, I was off running, leaping over the fence to the rescue. The large hawk had a hen pinned on the ground. A part of me hesitated. Do I allow this creature it’s meal? Do I save my hen? I continued forward, unsure, and the hawk released her and flew off as I approached. Tragedy averted. I was relieved, but I knew it would be back. I had just interfered with lunchtime.
Indeed, upon returning later in the day, the hawk was deep into a hearty chicken dinner. I carried the carcass to the top of the ridge, as an offering (and hopefully the last) to whatever powers that be – and to the hawk who I felt deserved to finish its meal. It returned within seconds. It had surely been watching my every move. I began planning for additional hawk protection. The half-covered in netting pasture area wasn’t cutting it. A few days later, another hen down. This one was fresh when I arrived, and being thanksgiving time, I took this one with me for dinner. The most delicious chicken I have ever tasted.
I’ve since lost a few more chickens and am working on solidifying a setup to keep them protected while allowing them some decent pasture. A tricky balance…
I didn’t realize at the time, but the Northern goshawk is a very rare visitor to our area – most birders have never seen one here. At first, I’d just assumed I had a Coopers hawk on my hands, but upon photographing, looking carefully at the photos and passing them along to some birder friends and colleagues, I had confirmation of a goshawk. I’ve spotted several predator hawk species and even bald eagles in the area, however, none have come close to posing a threat to the chickens. However, the goshawk is especially agile in thick woods, which serves as my main protection for the chickens, keeping the rest of the aerial predators at bay. Had this been ANY other species… Well, its not. Of all potential visitors to the farm, I get the goshawk.
As I welcome this opportunity to spend plenty of quality time with such a magnificent creature (i.e. 15 minutes just this afternoon sitting comfortably within 5 feet of the feasting beauty), I have been forced to put my ego aside and alter my design for a chicken paddock system I was so proud to have created. This is just one of many humbling experiences continuing to enlighten my ever-evolving, co-creating relationship with the land.
It seemed as though you could see their growth daily. Plenty of fresh greens and veggies to supplement their diet, along with garlic and apple cider vinegar in their water weekly to boost their immune systems. I avoid vaccinations and medicated feeds.As soon as we had some warm days, the chicks were out foraging for the day.
A feathered friend.
Finally, their house was completed and the chicks were soon to begin their new life at the farm.
I savored every moment.
Fishing net provided a initial attempt at protection from hawks.
Their forage area consists of diversity of vegetation: from open grassy areas to edges transitioning to dense shrub layers which provide some shade and protection from hawks.
Rotating their forage area allows them fresh forage. Here, you can see the contrast in vegetation cover where the fence line was set up.
I invite you to share in my journey of creating a farm with the intention to help rejuvenate a landscape and a culture.
During my first visit to the site (with the intent to farm it as opposed to tracking/hiking/skiing/etc.), I was graced with the presence of the red fox. For me, fox represents the spirit of observation, connection, adaptation and partnership, all qualities that are echoed in the core principles of permaculture design.
I was first introduced to the site by Scott Chaskey of Quail Hill Farm (Peconic Land Trust). I explained to him that I wasn’t necessarily looking for “farmland” and that I would welcome any land, regardless of slope, vegetation, soils, etc. He knew just the place.
The site is bordered to the north by protected land owned by the Peconic Land Trust and to the south by private land maintained mostly as an open lawn.
I applied for and obtained a lease on this beautiful acre, mostly consisting of open field with some edge areas of mixed autumn olive and red cedar. The topography is mostly mildly sloping with some areas with a bit more pitch, and not anything anyone would want to farm in the traditional sense.
So many thanks to Mike Bottini, a true partner in many endeavors who really helped me initiate this project. Without his support, I would probably still be tinkering around, waiting for the right moment to jump in and create my dream project. I also would’t have nearly as unique a chicken house without his design and construction know-how. I also have Emma Woodward to thank for helping me get the ball rolling on the initial construction of the hen house. Of course, there are many more to thank for their support/help/etc. during this process, and I will need to save that for another post…
Above is the final chicken house design. A simple salt-box shape effectively catches rainwater for my many water needs as there is no access to a well or public water source on-site.
Once a few contours were marked out, the dirt time began. Here is a trench for my first hugelkultur bed which will soon become a home for my first tree and shrub plantings. Special thanks to Mark Gutzmer for several hours of digging assistance!
Hugelkultur is a garden bed design utilizing wood, branches, leaves and other organic matter that are buried in order to break down over time, providing food for plants that grow there. The buried material also helps absorb and store water in the soil, which can be especially helpful in times of drought, which are seeming to be more common in our-changing climate.
My method of creating this particular hugelkultur bed:
1) Mark out a line of equal elevation (I used small bamboo stakes and orange flagging) which will indicate the higher edge of the “swale and mound” or “berm and basin.” I realized later that the flags of equal elevation should actually represent the downhill edge of the earthwork. I think my design should be ok, considering I’m not dealing with super steep slopes or heavy drainage, but we’ll have to wait and see how it holds up.
2) Using a hoe, break and pull away the layer of grass and roots, exposing the soil beneath in a four-foot wide area along the contour. Pile the grass/soil chunks downhill of your exposed soil area.
3) Dig a trench in the lower half of the exposed soil area (about 2 feet wide). I began just using a shovel, but a later I found that a pick axe-type tool worked well to loosen the soil/rocks first before shoveling it out (Thanks, Mike!). Separate the larger rocks out (especially if you want to use them for something later), and pile the excavated soil on the uphill edge (preferably on top of the remaining exposed soil so it is easier to move later.
4) Fill the trench with as much organic matter as you can get your hands on (logs, sticks, branches, leaves – the more rotten the better). Pack it in densely and make sure you have enough to rise at least slightly above the ground level – this will help give you the mound effect without having to add more soil from another source on your site.
5) Place the grass/soil chunks on top of the wood and sticks, covering it completely and as evenly as possible and pack that down. (Jumping on top of it provides a fun, trampoline effect.)
6) Pile the remaining excavated soil on top and even it out as best you can. In this case, my shallow swale uphill of the mound did not come out as wide as I imagined, but it should do the trick
7) Finish it off by seeding a mix of cover crops on and in the immediate area surrounding your earthwork. Now we’ll wait for the next big rain event to see how it handles the runoff. If I had a tractor or some kind of small machinery to do any step of this process, I probably would have taken advantage of that to speed up the process. However, I wasn’t in a particular rush to get this done, and earthworks by hand are a great way to strengthen your physical body as well as your connection with the earth. Sometimes its just fun to get dirty!
My neighbor to the South has his lawn mowed once a week, leaving heaps of grass clippings scattered about, only to be raked and tossed into the woods nearby. I offered to help rake and take some of it off their hands for use in my chicken coop. Grass clippings make a wonderful bedding material for the floor of the hen house as well as inside their nest boxes. Some of the grass clippings are also being used for additional mulch in creating some experimental “cardboard lasagna” to help convert some areas of grass to planting beds.
I’ll be posting upcoming community work days soon, so you all can have a chance to visit, meet other folks, lend a hand and learn more about the site, projects and permaculture in general. I am feeling more grateful every day to be blessed with such a beautiful piece of land that already has so much to offer this early on in the process.
Thank you all for your support!
PS: I am still working on a name for the farm, and I am open to suggestions. Please let me know your ideas!
2016 Nature Adventure and Water Safety Camp Registration is still open!
This unique program combines marine and beach ecology, wildlife tracking, water safety and paddling skills on the East End. Students (ages 9-15) will explore the flora and fauna of the beach and marine environments using snorkel gear, seines, kayaks, and standup paddleboards. The course will also cover water safety, reading ocean currents and rip tides, as well as ocean swimming, surfing, bodyboarding, and bodysurfing.
Led by Ocean-Certified Lifeguards and Wildlife Biologists
Mike Bottini & Juliana Duryea
Session 1: July 25–28 (4 classes; rain date July 29)
Session 2: August 8–11 (4 classes; rain date August 12)
10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Locations: Georgica Beach (East Hampton Village) and Northwest Creek, East Hampton.
Fee Per Session (includes all equipment): $400 per camper; $360 for LINO members
More information and great photos of past camps available here.
WHEN: Sat, Jun 18, 2016 from 10:00-11:30 AM