Monday, October 15, 2012

A NATURE Moment on the Farm


What in the world was THAT?

Life on the farm is never really silent. The very thought that there is some sort of “quiet life in the country” is just a myth. (believe you me)   There might be the occasional moment when it seems that nothing is stirring, but those moments are few and far between. Particularly if you are anywhere near the hens.

Chickens “talk” incessantly.  They have different little sounds that communicate different needs.  Early in the day, there is always some level of commotion as the daily egg laying begins.  While there are countless folks who insist that hens only cluck when they have just laid an egg, I beg to differ!  They shriek if they are frightened, cluck loudly if they find some good stuff to eat, and offer “comments” to the other hens on occasion. Occasionally some sort of hen fight breaks out with loud squawking and flying feathers.  They even “snore” in the night.  The henhouse is never, ever quiet.

Generally, they offer a little background noise. A rural muzak. All their little chicken noises are not at all unpleasant (well, except the shrieking). The sounds just add to the ambience of the farm.  If the hens suddenly go completely silent, it means that we better pay attention, because not unlike small children…silence usually spells trouble. Any type of predator, particularly one from the skies, will cause the henhouse and surrounding yard to fall eerily silent.

However, silence was not the issue the other day.  As I picked kale in the lower garden, I kept hearing this odd sound.  BAWWKKKKK!  Chuck….chuck….Brrrttt!  (you know…spelling animal sounds phonetically is hard!)  At first I thought it was an echo of the chickens.  I was down in the “L” of the hoophouses, and sound does some odd things down there, bouncing off the plastic sides.  But, the sides were rolled up and there was no real way to make an echo.  Besides, it sounded like it was coming from the fenceline.

It got louder.  It sounded squawkier.  It no longer sounded like a chicken. It sounded like an alarm call of some sort.  Could it be turkeys in the underbrush? It didn’t sound like the whistle the groundhogs make when they are frightened.   I couldn’t think of any other animals that made noises like the ones I was hearing.  I kept running through the list of bird calls in my head.

Because I canNOT stand an unsolved mystery, I headed out to investigate.  Putting the kale in the shade of the hoophouse, I followed the noise to the back garden.  As I picked my way through the lumpy ground where we had just harvested potatoes, I noticed Squeekie sitting in a hunting stance, staring up at the trees. I was still unable to see what was making the noise…and the noise was getting louder.

When Squeekie is hunting, she changes from the purring feline that will do ANYTHING for cat cookies to a wild, focused hunter with no desire for human contact. The transformation was obvious by the way she glared as I continued my search.

As I attempted to follow her gaze, I saw movement in the trees. A squirrel! 

Squeekie was hunting a SQUIRREL and he was having none of that, thank you very much!  His little barks and calls were getting quite agitated.  Neither the squirrel nor Squeekie seemed to realize that the squirrel was almost as big as Squeekie herself AND he was about 30 feet in the air.

I wanted to look closer, so I walked toward the fenceline.  As I did, Squeekie, the mighty huntress, darted into the underbrush.

As Squeekie darted into the underbrush, the small commotion startled two DEER that had been napping or eating under the wild apple tree along the fenceline.  They bolted up the hill right on the other side of the fence.   I was more than a little surprised by that development in the story and missed the photo opportunity.

The squirrel scurried off to another tree, having escaped the mighty Squeekie. He called a few more times, and then all was quiet.

Squeekie gave up tormenting the squirrel and set off to hunt elsewhere.

With the mystery solved, I went back to the kale. 

I must admit…everything seemed fairly anti-climactic after that.

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