2013 Newsletter #5 – The Sounds of the Season on the Farm

This week’s installment from the farm is from one of our interns farmer Arwen. She’s living out in our yurt which allows her to really connect with the land. One of the joys of being a diversified, organic farm is we can also focus on creating habitat for our local wildlife around the field, which is beneficial for our crops, our land, and our personal well being, as Arwen illustrates.

One year in elementary school, my outdoor school class group decided (after much serious discussion) to call ourselves the Western Tanagers. Male western tanagers are a little smaller than a robin and have a bright red head, yellow body, and black wings: much more colorful than most northwest birds. Despite our group name, we did not see a western tanager on that trip, but they have stayed in a special place in my heart. Over the past few seasons I have been trying to learn their song, which the books compare to a robin’s song. One morning this May, I woke up in the yurt to an unfamiliar birdsong somewhat like a robin’s. Bleary-eyed, I rounded up my binoculars and stumbled out the door, hoping that I might be about to add another tanager sighting to my short list. I spotted the mysterious singer in the distance and the binoculars provided just enough detail to show that it was not a tanager.  Though excited about the new bird call, I could not completely stifle my disappointment. As I turned back toward the yurt, movement in the cottonwoods behind it caught my eye.  A bird was moving through the branches… bigger than a sparrow… a little smaller than a robin… As it moved to the end of a branch, its red head caught the light. A western tanager!  More movement. There was a total of 4 tanagers in the trees right in front of me. They were not singing: it was a serendipitous sighting and a magical moment.
I eventually learned that the original singer that morning was a black-headed grosbeak, and beginning that morning I heard them all over the farm. There were several other new singers in the bird chorus that day, including swainson’s thrushes, which are one of my favorites. All of the new birds were migrants, and I would be willing to bet that I caught the moment of their return from temperate climes.
This is not the first time since I started farming that I have noticed an increased awareness of seasonal changes in the woods and fields and sky around me. Day length affects everyone, but over the past few years of farm work I have begun to notice the angle of the sun and to be able to tell time by the sun’s progression across the sky. I have also noticed that farm seasons don’t quite match up with the way I thought of seasons pre-farming. On the farm right now, we are shifting from the spring activities of planning and planting and beginning the acceleration of ripening and harvesting that leads to fall. The glory days of summer are still ahead of us, but they are already beginning to get shorter. The soundtrack of the farm has changed again too: most spring birdsong has to do with courtship, and now that birds are nesting and fledging, they are going about their business much more quietly. Not the swainson’s thrushes, though. Happily, their spiraling calls will continue to bring a smile to my face for another few months as I anticipate the sounds and sites of fall and winter on the farm.

Luke, Adam, Sarah, Megan, Bridget, Tino, Yolanda, Valentin, Julio-Cesar,Mike, Marianna, Lisa, Alice, Sarah D, Dana, Joshua, Arwen, Grace, Brandon (and our future farmers Pearl, Emuna, Avi Ray & Zoe Rose).