04 July 2017
I have been helping a student at the University of Waterloo to gain wider ornithological knowledge and I had arranged to take her to our friend's century farm to study grassland ecology a little. Unfortunately, her father suffered a heart attack so she she returned home to be with her family.
Following a period of early morning rain, the weather brightened, and Miriam and I decided to pack a lunch and visit the farm anyway. It is always such a pleasure to go there, and once we start to roam the grassland, with Bobolinks Dolichonyx oryzivorus and Eastern Meadolarks Sturnella magna to keep us company, we lose track of time almost and feel a wave of tranquility wash over us. This old farm imparts serenity in so many ways. The hum of traffic and the cacophony of city life is not far away, yet it seems barely to exist as we probe the grassland hoping to discover its secrets.
What stories could these piles of stone tell if they could talk? What would we know of the pioneers who built the walls? What hopes and dreams were embodied in the breaking of the land?
Our enlightened friends do not permit the grass to be cut until the birds have finished breeding. Not for them a quick buck and to hell with everything else. Stewardship of the land is a deeply-held core value and this wonderful expanse of grassland is the result.
Bobolinks, endangered throughout their range, find safe haven here.
Savannah Sparrows Passerculus sandwichensis, one of the signature grassland sparrows are numerous here; I don't think I have ever seen more individuals at the same time anywhere else.
This habitat, seriously under threat as more of it is converted to agricultural land, and is gobbled up for housing tracts, harbours an amazing variety of life. Many butterflies sparkled in the sunlight above the nodding grasses and prairie flowers, although many of them never landed and were often hard to identify. A Common Ringlet Coenonympha tullia and a Black Swallowtail Papilo polyxenes were more obliging than most.
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris is a well adapted invasive species that has experienced spectacular success in North America, and it seems that one can hardly go anywhere without seeing juvenile birds, a testament to its aggressive eviction of native cavity-nesting species.
Up near the house there is a little knee wall adjacent to bird feeders set out to attract hummingbirds and orioles and we sat on the wall in bright sunshine to eat our lunch. These whimsical little metal birds seemed to signify their approval.
As we ate, a male American Kestrel Falco sparverius hovered in search of rodents scurrying along their trails through the grass. No doubt this male has mouths to feed and is kept busy providing food for its mate and recently hatched chicks.
This farm is remarkable, the owners even more remarkable.
We are so fortunate to be permitted to roam the length and breadth of it, to try each time we visit to tease out a few more of its secrets.
May we always be welcome here to probe and search, to pry, to satisfy our curiosity, to revel in the myriad ways in which nature can deliver sensory delights of every kind without ever failing us. It is special privilege indeed and one which we will never take for granted, but one for which we will be eternally grateful.
And there is no one with whom I would rather share it than Miriam. Life is good!