September 07, 2018

Thoughts on an old bird guide

Yesterday, a friend showed me 2 copies of an old bird guide passed down to her - its title - Land Birds East of the Rockies, by Chester A. Reed. It was originally published in 1906. The copies I saw were printed in 1951 by Doubleday & Company Inc.

Considering how long ago it was first published, the illustrations were pretty good. Not good enough to separate similar sparrow or wren species or individuals with juvenile plumage, but as good as many other guides published much more recently. Its species inclusion was pretty complete for the chosen parameters.

It was those chosen parameters that made it seem odd. No water associated birds of any kind were included. No waterfowl, gulls, terns, shorebirds, waders or rails. Owls were included, but all diurnal raptors were omitted. Game birds were omitted. That left out Turkey and Bobwhite.

Two birds that were already extinct by 1906 were included - Carolina Parakeet (spelled paroquet in the book) and Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The range listed for Ivory-billed Woodpecker - "Formerly the South Atlantic States west to Texas and Oklahoma. It is hoped that 'specimens' survive in the great swamps of Louisiana, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina."

The mind set that led the author to use the word specimens where populations would have been more apropos struck me as being one of the reasons why these birds are extinct. 'Specimen' implies something dead, stuffed and sitting on a shelf. That was a goal of many at that time - to find and collect some rarity, stuff it and sit it on a shelf for bragging rights of having something rare.

As a population, we humans have come a ways in our thinking towards wildlife since 1906. There are, however, still all too many specimens among us who yearn for 1856, both in regards to what that would mean for nature and for other humans not exactly like themselves. May there come a time when that sort achieves the same status as Ivory-billed Woodpecker, existing only in memory.

Posted on September 07, 2018 10:38 by frank-lyne frank-lyne | 1 comments | Leave a comment

July 31, 2018

Multi-flora Rose - https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/14844766

Shortly before my time, someone gave my father a number of Multi-flora Rose seedlings. Apparently, at one time, either the University of Kentucky or some agency of the government recommended Multi-flora Rose as a living fence. One small problem with that - they don't seem to know to fill in the entire fence line. If a problem develops with the wire in the rose gaps, it's a torturous task to get through the roses and fix it. By the time I got big enough to help with things like fence repair, Pop cursed the day he planted those roses and expressed a wish that the guy who gave him the seedlings would be out wandering naked at night, and stumble into a rose tangle.

My own feelings towards Multi-flora Roses have always been more ambivalent. On the down side, they come up everywhere, not just in fence rows. When the canes grow long enough to droop to the ground, the ends of the canes take root, making an ever widening tangle. On the up side, few things make any better nesting habitat for a multitude of birds - Cardinals, Brown Thrashers, Mockingbirds, and anything else that will nest off the ground and below treetops. The roses in the accompanying photos provide the only cover by this pond. The cows would have either bitten off or trampled almost anything else that might have been planted here for cover. And the cover they provide is useful for more than just nesting. A couple of years ago, a family of Wood Ducks that began life in a box beside another pond, made the trek to this pond to take advantage of the cover provided by the tangle overhanging the water. Whenever I came by, they would simply swim out of sight beneath the roses.

This year, Japanese Beetles have attacked all the roses so heavily that they didn't even bloom. And these pond side roses, having caused the berms on which they sprouted to slump towards the pond, are also suffering from damp feet. I'm not too worried about them. According to the native plant purists, I'm "supposed" to be against them anyway and "should" be on a quest to eradicate them. I would not recommend planting them anywhere they haven't planted themselves. And I grub up many roses every year, but have no plans to grub them all. They're simply too useful.

Posted on July 31, 2018 10:04 by frank-lyne frank-lyne | 1 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 21, 2018

Cattle self medicating

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/14439598

In my last essay I suggested that advocating on behalf of native plants required demonstrating a dollar value for native plants in order to change any attitudes among typical landowners. I realize that the people likely to see my essays already value native plants for deeper, more visceral reasons than money, but I can't think of any consideration other than money that's likely to change attitudes or behaviors of landowners who are currently disinterested in native plants. Since I haven't discovered any easy way to translate native plant seed grown on my own place into money, the money value of the seed might not be the best point to use in advocating on behalf of native plants. But maybe there are other ways to connect native plants to money.

One possible money connection that has occurred to me is the possibility that cattle might use native plants to self medicate. I thought of this possible connection by comparing my cattle farm with that of a neighbor. With his 15 foot bush hog and air conditioned tractor to pull it, he clips his pastures several times each growing season, greatly reducing the ability of his cattle to nibble anything other than forage species. With my worn out 10 foot bush hog and open tractor, I clip only once per season, except where cockle burrs are bad, and then only twice. Every health issue that happens to cattle always seems to hit his herd worse than mine. Pink eye is running through his herd this year. Several of his cows got so sick with it that he took them to the vet for shots. I've had six cases and none got sick enough to require any intervention. He spends lots more money than me on mineral because he buys mineral laced with antibiotic to protect against anaplasmosis, which has affected a number of his cattle. I buy ordinary mineral and so far have had no cases of anaplasmosis. He's had 11 still born calves in the last 2 years. I've had zero still born calves, not only in the last two years but several years prior to that. He attributes the different health outcomes to me being the luckiest fellow there ever was, but I think we must be doing something different.

On the matter of the still born calves I suggested that I made a better choice of herd sires than he did. At first his push back was that the auctioneer at the bull auction said "Easy going and easy calving."

"But" I asked, " did you get a piece of paper to back that up?" He did have a registration paper for his bull, but he hadn't looked at it. I asked to look at it. It showed that the bull he chose had a calving ease value of one. I had gotten cost share money when I selected my current sire and the sire I selected had to have a calving ease value of at least 4 to qualify for the money. I told him about the cost share opportunity but he didn't apply. It involved fulfilling an educational requirement. The mere mention of the word education puts him off. Once I showed him something to back up my point, he loaded his bull up, sold it and bought a new one with higher calving ease values.

On other health differences between our herds, I suggested to him that my cows might self medicate on the weeds they find in my shaggy pastures. He replied that he liked to be able to find his cattle. I have no hard evidence I can show him that might sway him to mow less frequently. And I can't name which plants in my pastures might be the ones cows munch on when they're feeling bad. I did find with a simple search that cattle self medicating is a real thing.- http://orgprints.org/8282/1/engel_animal__self-medication.pdf - Here's a quote from the article on suggested research protocols - "Provide an environment that closely matches the species’ natural habitat in order to observe and utilize self-help strategies. "

It isn't studied much because there are no monied interests that would stand to gain from the findings. Instead a number of monied interests would likely lose by farmers employing less maintenance to their pastures. Perhaps those native plant lovers who are also connected to Academia could use their influence to push for more research in this area.

Posted on July 21, 2018 20:17 by frank-lyne frank-lyne | 1 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 14, 2018

Native plant finds on private land

What are your options if you find a stand of native plants on private land? If a farmer plants a crop and you go on his land and harvest some for yourself, there's no room for debate. You're stealing. Farmers generally don't plant woodlands, yet on the matter of trees there's still no doubt. If you cut a saw log on someone else's land, you're stealing. For many other things the issue of theft is debatable. One farmer I often trespassed on would sometimes ask me if I was hunting gensing. He asked it in a tone that implied simple curiosity rather than objection, but that may have been a ruse to lure me into an admission. I never hunted gensing on anyone's land. I think that would be theft because gensing is of unquestionable monetary value. These gray areas can be resolved by asking yourself this question - Does the landowner place any value on the thing you want to acquire?
Rocks for instance. I have visited retail establishments that offered decorative rocks for sale. A big boulder might cost over $100. But to a farmer, field rocks are a nuisance, something to haul off and get rid of. I like to collect rocks to make small decorative ledges and to place in erodible spots like the top of my pond dike. The neighboring farm, which has been row cropped to the point of exposing the upper layers of bedrock in places, is like a rock quarry for me. I sometimes make forays onto that farm after it's been gone over with a ripper to see what's been turned up. I once collected a limestone bench rock from that place that was so big, I couldn't even lift one side of it. I used a 6 foot pry bar to get it up onto some round posts and rolled it the 200 feet or so to my fence line. I then used my tractor and a hayfork to take it to where I wanted it. The neighbor never inquired if I had seen any suspicious characters in the neighborhood who might be rock thieves.
Now to plants - No doubt about it. If I gather a mess of roasting ears from my neighbor's corn field, I'm stealing. If my cows break out and eat some of my neighbor's corn, I'm responsible for their damage. But what about the ground hog who lives in my barn lot and crosses the road to eat my neighbor's corn? Am I responsible for that ground hog's actions? Damn, I hope not. It would set a dangerous precedent (for me) to hold a ground hog's host responsible for its actions.
Speaking of dangerous precedents, I recently brought up the idea of telling a landowner that a wild flower stand had monetary value and was told that saying anything about money to a landowner would set a dangerous precedent. If you offered money to one landowner, all would soon come to expect it.
Uh, that was my point! People always prick up their ears at the mere mention of money. Aquisitiveness may be the only trait that is universally shared. So how do you use money as an element of persuasion without offering money yourself? The appraisers on Antiques Road Show don't tell those who have brought in their finds, "I will personally give you x dollars for your rusty widget." No, they give them an estimated retail value at auction. And although no money has changed hands, feelings have changed. The rusty widget kept in the back of the garage will now be placed on the living room mantle piece.
But what monetary value might these native plants have? I looked through Roundstone Seed Company's wildflower list to check on retail prices. I found that a plant I host on my own farm - Swamp Milkweed - at $495 per pound, is the 4th most expensive wildflower seed that they offer in bulk. There are many wildflowers for which they list no bulk weight price. Goat's Rue for instance. I paid $5.30 for a seed packet of Goat's Rue that probably didn't weigh .01 once. Could I turn the Swamp Milkweed on my place into money? Doubt it. The whole stand probably wouldn't have more than a fraction of one pound of seed and wouldn't pay for the sweat it would take to hand harvest it. While I probably won't attempt to turn my swamp milkweed into a cash crop, I confess it raises my personal valuation of it to know that it's expensive. And I suspect that many in my neighborhood, who place zero value on aesthetics, biodiversity, history or anything else of that sort, might see that old field corner with new eyes if they thought the things on it were worth money.

Posted on July 14, 2018 20:52 by frank-lyne frank-lyne | 3 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment

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