Wednesday, May 14, 2014

On a Drone Note

Rain is gently falling outside the open door to the back porch. A rumble of thunder here and there, off in the distance, gives a nice touch. It is lulling and sweet. My plans for the day did not include rain, but rain can give permission to change one’s plans, and so mine shifted. 

As to life on the farm, and deaths, in continuum from the last entry in blogdom, I wrote that I was not happy with the recent snake predation on wren nests and such and I also wondered why the starlings seemed to get away from being molested by the no necks and could raise their squawking babies with immunity. Well, I was wrong. The day before yesterday on the afternoon hike to the barn, I noticed, first, there was no irritating squawking noise from the starling babies coming from the gourd houses. Looking up, I saw the side of a snake, the unmistakable pattern of its skin, coiled there in the gourd, digesting baby birds. Not that I particularly wished the birds a death sentence, but finally it was quiet. The gourd was well out of my reach and there was nothing I could do, either way to deal with the snake where it was. So I left the shovel, for its potential use later in reckoning with the serpent, leaning against the fence.

The next day, yesterday, I had finished my riding, had practiced my drum playing in preparation for two gigs this weekend, and was beginning to make my way up to the house from the barn when I heard the most amazing and unexpected sound. There were two Purple Martins, either immature or both females I could not tell which, flitting around the houses. They flew into several of the houses and out, chattering and calling all the while. Pure music their voices are, lilting and light. The sound takes me to an instant happy place. In watching them, with a smile on my face, I really hoped they would not try to nest here since my snake situation had not improved from last year, and I did not want to see these two eaten. Then I realized that the snake who had been in the starling house yesterday, was indeed still there, and was just now trying to get down from the housing.

It hung from the gourd hole, kinked up and twisted, about a foot length out. It flickered its tongue and looked about not sure what to do next. Apparently the climb up to the house was lot more easy than going down was going to be. Its choice to leave was either to drop to the ground, some ten feet down or more, or to slither out of the gourd and go back up to the pole the gourds hung off of, and then go down the pole again. It had apparently not figured out either option.

And so it hung there while these two martins flittered about only inches away from this snake, oblivious to it, just happy to be making musical sounds for me to enjoy for the moment. The martins finally left and the snake slunk back into the house to ponder its situation, its head just inside the house, peeking out. When Mark got home I told him about the stuck snake and so as not to turn away a good chance to practice his skills with flying his new toy, uh, real estate tool for showing property, he got out his new drone and off to the nest pole we went. 

This drone, a four propeller driven flying thing, has a camera mounted on it and can be sent to incredibly high heights, and is a steady and stable flyer with radio controls. Mark set it on the ground and waited for it to warm up. The snake watched us from its perch above us. Then Mark set the drone in motion and up it went. The whirling noise from the propeller blades were enough to drive the serpent into a retreat mode and we could not see its face from the ground any more. The  drone went up and hovered at the door of the gourd, taking video of what it saw. The video did later show the side of the snake as it hid its head into the farthest region of the gourd. The silly snake was still in there this morning and I am beginning to wonder at the relative intelligence of this creature at the art of leaving. It may well be still full, though,  and not hell bent of leaving just yet and taking this opportunity to chill out and observe the farm below its perch. Who knows with snakes.

So, rainy day, thunder, a day with a built in excuse not to do the things that probably should get done, like vegetation management, but perfectly suited for my spending a few hours playing drums. In my tack room I have a set of practice drums that are probably more antique than up to date, but function very well for how I practice. I put on a set of headphones and a cd of the music that I know our band wants to play at our upcoming gigs, and strike the plastic heads of the set, hopefully in time. Not as gratifying as a real wood and skin kit but good for hearing the songs and keeping the motor skills up.

Very easily, though, I no longer hear my tapping on plastic but go straight into the music in my ears, and I am there, playing with Santana, and the Allman Brothers. I am sitting right next to Butch Trucks and watching Greg as he plays the organ and sings, feeling the magic of the music they created in the years of my teens. There was so much great music made during and around the 70’s, and it still holds the test of time. I have no doubt that Greg and Carlos would not appreciate my efforts to help them along, but its nice to imagine I am there kicking it with them. And so I play their songs and tap out the beats, with the three dogs in residence laying undisturbed at my feet.  

My batteries sadly died to my cd player, though, and I put down the sticks and headphones and walked outside my tack room into the barn aisle. Two of the mares were munching on their hay, standing quietly, the sound of rainfall on the metal roof above them ringing in a peaceful serenade. Cistine, however, had left her stall and stood standing as I have seen her do before, her body, under the run in shed but with her face just out far enough to catch the falling water that runs off the roof. I said something and she turned to face me and her head was drenched but she seemed delighted to be being rained on, face only. She is a very silly horse and likes to play with water.

Since the batteries had died and there was to be no riding in this rain, I pulled one of yesterday’s saddle pads over my head for cover and rounded up the dogs to head to the house. As I passed the bird houses, I saw that the snake was still there in that gourd, and coiled tight. The shovel is in the same place too, just in case.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Feathers and Eggs

Yesterday at afternoon feeding of the horses, I was throwing hay into the stall for Sunset, when I noticed that the nest that had been built last year on the ledge over her door, had faint noises coming from it. The noises were from the plaint plaintive peeps of baby birds, begging for food from a parent. As I backed away, I saw a wren with something in its mouth around the corner of the barn waiting for me to leave so it could deliver. It flew to the nest, the noises got more frantic, then they subsided, and the parent flew away to find more. In the knowing of the repetition of how things work around here, I held little hope that the sounds would be there the next day. They weren’t.

Last year when the little wrens made the nest in this very same, super safe spot inside the barn on that ledge, high away from dogs, cats, raccoons, and other predators the little birds did not take into account that snakes can climb, and like to eat little wren babies. Sure enough, last year, and the year before, and the others before that, the wrens make a nest in a place they think is safe, like on this ledge. Sometimes they have nested in a riding helmet left lying around, or in flower pot hanging on the front porch,  or under the hood of the tractor in tidy small nests of grasses, horse tail hairs, and an occasional sparkly trinket for decoration, and they nearly all end the same way. It surprises me that they are not extinct. Every time, just when the eggs hatch and the young fuzzy babies begin the beg with that screech that begins the servitude of the parent to find that endless source of bugs and grubs, snakes find them.

Last year the snake, that had eaten the wren chicks from that nest, remained draped around the rafters for a day, digesting. It was a fat, heavy, yellow rat snake with faint markings, blending in well with the treated lumber we used to frame the stalls with. It lay there oblivious to the comings and goings of the horses passing under neath it, and I went around where it lay incase it decided to drop at an opportune time and land on my head. 

This year there have been no Purple Martins to listen to either. Their nests last season were raided by both avian predators who took their eggs, and lastly by a very large rat snake who killed the babies, just before they were set to fledge and fly away. The parents abandoned the colony and I have only seen one lone scout earlier this spring. He didn’t even light on the pole that holds all of the gourd shaped plastic houses, but flew on. I do miss hearing them. Their  happy clucks and chirps have made my mornings for years as I walked to the barn for early feeding. In a sad way, this year, I am  actually a bit relieved that they are not back. It was too painful to not be more effective in protecting them, in a space I provided for them in the first place. The pole was complete with a snake guard so they could be safe and successful, but obviously not.

And then there are the dogs. The pair of Canadian Geese that had been hanging around all spring had finally apparently nested somewhere down by the beaver condo at the narrow end of the pond. I had not seen the nest but the dogs did. The other morning at feeding time the pair of geese were in one of the paddocks plucking the seed heads off the tall grasses when I heard them start their warning honks. It wasn’t until I got back to the house that I learned what they were honking about. Following behind me came the two big dogs, each slowly trotting with a swing to their hips, with heads low and mouths in a funny, not closed, holding something precious way that only a dog who knows what it’s up to, can do.

Layla, the black lab was happy to show off her prize and gladly placed it between her front legs when she laid down on the front yard grass. She did her Lab smile and licked the egg and looked at me for my approval, then licked the egg again, and again. Hyphy, the other large dog, of unidentifiable genetic origin, obviously knew what the egg was about and forgot the licking part and went straight to trying to get her teeth in a place where they could do some damage to the shell. I convinced her that I only wanted to look at the egg for a moment and she let me pick it up, watching me carefully incase I might want dibs on it. The white egg was quite heavy and I gave it back to her. In very short order she cracked it, licked the contents until the shell was empty and then ate the shell.  She had either done this before, or somewhere in her genetic coding the instructions for sucking eggs was there and gave her guidance. Layla eventually bored with her prize since I was not up for playing fetch with it, and I saw the egg laying alone unguarded. A glance back later showed that egg to be gone too. The geese continued their plaintive honks for a while, and the wren this morning held food in its mouth flitting around the barn looking for the mouths to feed, that were there no more.

My real grudge with the snakes eating baby birds thing though, is, that I have a prejudice for wrens and martins that does not extend to the darn starlings who have nested in the martin houses this year. Their babies stick their ugly heads out the door and screech relentlessly for food and yet, no snake comes to quiet them. This is a total mystery to me and it simply not fair for the snakes to target the birds I like and ignore the ones who are a nuisance, but they did not ask me what I thought.

In earlier days, when I had not spent decades watching the animals that we share this land with, I had a rather childish attitude that the animals all lived in harmony and that rabbits played with baby deer while butterflies danced over head. It was most disturbing when our Lab of a few years back brought me the forequarters of a fawn it had killed or found. The dog was so happy and wanted me to know of its skills and prowess as a hunter. I was sick, but it was not my place to make a judgement call over whether the dog was evil or not. The dog was only doing what its instincts told it to do to survive. It would live to eat another day whether I poured some processed dog chow in its bowl for dinner or not. 

With all of this on going carnage and lethal establishment of the pecking orders, I still am in ways deeply saddened by these deaths. I am though, now more accepting of one fact that is, I am simply not in control of everything that lives and dies out here. I am not Mother Nature, and there is little that I can do to control the rules that guide the existence of the animals around me. My only choice is the acceptance of the fact that this really is a “snake eat baby bird/dog eat egg and or anything” world, and get over it, whether I want to or not, and do my best to stay higher up the food chain.