Story Time At Signal Rock Farm
I have been told by many customers over the years that I should write down my farm stories and produce a book. Although I am no where near ready for such a daunting task, I thought I would start with sharing some farm stories with each of you. Here goes…
Red Tail Hawk
As I drove my old Ford farm truck up to the fire tower fields to check on the sheep, I noticed birds swarming. Small birds, dozens of them flying towards the fire and radio towers. As I made my way up the hill, over the rough, rocky road more and more birds came, now there were literally hundreds of birds. It was like in the movie “Birds”. I have never seen so many birds swarming on my farm before. My heart was racing, something wasn’t right. I was telling my older brother, Tom, over my Bluetooth, about it. I finally pulled my truck up to the fire tower. All of the guy-wires and every available space on the fencing around both towers were covered with birds. As I got out of my truck I saw why, there was a very large, predator bird laying belly up. The birds were waiting for him to die or get weak enough so they could eat him. The birds were swarming down low over him, again and again, getting a good look but keeping enough distance that he couldn’t touch them.
I thought it was an owl when he turned his head to look at me. His belly and face was so white and I couldn’t see the top of his head at all. As I told Tom what was going on, he said you have got to do something for him. It was almost 100 degrees outside, not a cloud in the sky and no breeze. The bird was breathing hard. I totally agreed with him, but those talons! If he ever latched onto my arm – it’s unlikely he would ever release, there was no one on the farm to come and help me. He could totally destroy my arm. I decided to try and at least put him upright and hope he didn’t try to grab me. Any animal, terrified, can either do what we hope and understand we are helping them and not act out or they can, out of fear, do exactly what we hoped they wouldn’t do. I put my farm gloves on over my hands, my arms were bare in my short sleeve shirt. His eyes locked with mine as I walked ever so slowly over to him. Carefully I turned him over so he was sitting on his talons. He didn’t move a muscle and he never stopped looking into my eyes while I did it. He wasn’t an owl, he was a red tailed hawk. The hundreds of birds stopped swarming but hadn’t left, they seem to have settled down on every tree branch, wire, fence around to watch.
Tom is on the phone saying you have to do more. The bird appeared to be having heat stroke, and maybe was going into shock. I could see he was injured, one foot didn’t look right, and one wing was in a funny position. After discussing the situation with Tom, we decided I should bring him down to the barn office and run the window a/c and fan on him. I had the ridiculous idea that he would fit into my empty 5 gallon bucket I had in the truck. I brought it over to him. Trembling, terrified, but coaxed on by my older brother, I actually picked him up and started to put him in the bucket. He was several times bigger than the bucket! Clearly I should have realized this before I picked him up! I quickly set him back down. Walking back to the truck with the bucket, Tom convinced me that the bird wouldn’t hurt me, that he knew better, that he understood I was helping him. Besides the hundreds of birds overhead were terrifying this big bird. I had nothing else to put him in.
I went back to the big bird, heart racing, decided I just had to put him in the truck with me. The 1995 Ford truck only had a bench seat. I approached the bird slowly, again locking eyes with him, this time I talked to him in a soft voice, explained that he shouldn’t move. Tom in my ear, urging me on, I took a deep breath and picked him up again. This time he seemed really big and heavy. I held him out away from me, our eyes locked together, I carried him about 50 feet up an incline to the truck. I had already opened the passenger door. I set him inside on the seat. He never moved a muscle. His eyes wide with wonder now, no longer half slanted from the sun. I got in on the drivers side, turned on the truck and cranked up the a/c, windows closed, drove as quickly as I dared down the rough, rocky road back to the barn. I was trembling from nerves and adrenaline. He was so big riding next to me. So amazing is all I could think, so beautiful, so glad I had driven up there when I had. He is so smart. By the time I got to the barn, I felt sure he wouldn’t hurt me. I ran and opened up the office door. Getting him out of the truck was going to be tricky, he had opened his wings a tiny bit as the cold a/c fan blew on him. Once again I made sure I didn’t pick him up until we locked eyes, I had to reach over him with my left arm to get a hold of him. This worried me but he didn’t move. I carried him into the office and set him down on the carpeted floor. Turned on the a/c in the window and found a fan to blow straight on to him that I set on the floor. I set out a small bowl with water. Then I closed the door to the office.
I hung up with Tom, went to the house to try to figure out who to call to help the bird. I decided on our animal control officer, whose husband it turns out is a raptor specialist. He said he would leave his job and be over in about 30 minutes. What a relief!
Just as I sat down to relax and get something to drink, Mickey, our farm hand came running from the barn office, screaming “There’s a giant bird in your office!! You won’t believe it. I don’t know how he got there!” I realized in an instant what had happened. Mickey must have returned from his errands and walked into the office to leave the items on the table, the big bird was on the other side of the table. This gave him quite a shock and scare, understandably so. Looking back on this – it was actually very funny. Yelling over his hysteria, I answered him “I know I put him there”. Mickey’s eyes got huge as he yelled in complete and udder disbelief “You Put Him There?” It was all very hard to take in. Such a big bird, those talons, none of this made sense, how could I have put him there? Eventually I was able to calm Mickey down and explain the situation. We both got laughing about it.
The raptor specialist arrived and we found the red tailed hawk had now spread his wings out in front of the fan and was trying to stand on both feet but unable to. One wing was open as far as he could without hitting the walls, the other was half open and bent funny. He told me he was a juvenile. His wing span was already over 6 feet. The specialist was very surprised and a little upset with me for what I had done. He spent some time explaining to me why it was so dangerous and how lucky I had been. Of course he was right, but older brothers can still sometimes be very convincing. I think the specialist would have loved to have had a word or two with my brother!
Now the job of moving the hawk to get him veterinary care. We needed something to wrap his talons with, because the specialist had come from work he didn’t have his equipment with him. I wear hiking gators while I work in the fields so I had several pairs of those sitting there. We took one and he covered his eyes first with a towel then between the two of us we got his talons wrapped in the gator, then his wings wrapped tightly in another one. It all went amazingly well. The bird was doing much better, had cooled down, was far less terrified. He took him to Tufts Wildlife Veterinary Clinic in Grafton MA. They will do what they can to fix any wild animal as long as it can eventually, after rehab, be put back out in the wild. The next day I got a call from the specialist, unfortunately he was never going to be able to hunt again due to the injury to his foot/talon. His wing would have healed fine. They put him down. We assume that he injured himself by hitting one of the wires on the radio tower, as I found him right below the wires. Although it made me sad that he couldn’t be fixed and returned to the wild. I am so glad he was spared dying with all those birds about to peck him. I don’t know if they would have waited until he was fully dead or just weak enough they would feel they could attack without injury.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have interacted with such a wonderful creature. We and our neighbors love our red tailed hawks that live on our farm. We keep track of where they live, their babies and their lives. They follow our tractors around when we mow, ted, rake and bale the hay. They sit on our fence posts and rest right near our barn and home, we get to see them pretty close up but nothing like this experience.
Monarch butterflies are now an endangered species. That’s according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The group made its announcement on July 21. The IUCN says climate change is a primary reason for the decline. People can help monarch butterflies by planting milkweed. Monarchs breed only where milkweed is growing. Female monarchs lay eggs on it, and monarch caterpillars eat it. The plant is poisonous to many animals, but not to monarchs. Its toxins build up in the butterfly’s body, making the monarch deadly to predators. According to TIME for Kids | Saving Monarchs, Jaime Joyce with reporting from AP.
There are many reasons why milkweed has suddenly declined at an alarming rate and therefore the Monarch Butterfly with it. You can read the above article online for more information. In our town, Charlton, we have seen all of the farms but one disappear into housing lots, industrial facilities, etc. One very large farm is currently being turned into one of the biggest Amazon warehouses in the country!
Here on our farm we strive to work with nature, to help all species survive and thrive. It’s very important to us. We want to improve our farm soil, grasses, woods and wildlife while also creating a healthier planet. Sometimes that can be very difficult. The Monarch Butterfly is a perfect example of this. Milkweed is a poisonous plant to sheep, cows, goats, llamas, alpacas and horses. Milkweed can take over a hay field in just one season once it flowers and releases all the seeds. This is a huge problem for farmers that are growing hay to feed livestock and horses. We have really struggled with this. We have had fields just completely taken over by milkweed, many times. We can’t allow our sheep and lambs to graze these fields, we can’t make hay to feed our sheep and horses, or to sell to any of our hay customers to feed their animals. Basically we would have to stop farming if we allow the milkweed to grow in our hayfields. That being said, we still have a significant amount of milkweed growing on our farm. We have pastures and field edges with it, a few stray plants in our hay fields are always present. We provide clover, alfalfa and other flowers for butterflies throughout our farm to feed on as well as the hummingbirds and bees.
One solution to this problem is for people to grow some milkweed in their yards. They can not only enjoy having the Monarch Butterfly they can help to save them. All the conservation areas, land trusts, public parks, recreational areas, school yards, businesses with grassy areas, etc. can play a role in growing some milkweed. By providing milkweed in so many diverse locations there would be more resiliency when one location fails.
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