Tag Archives: wildlife

Transforming work into play

Holmes Co. OH, Millersburg OH

The prairie on the hill.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Several years ago, our lifetime friends Dave and Kate built their dream house on a hill overlooking Millersburg, Ohio. They picked the perfect spot.

From that lofty vantage point overlooking a lovely valley, Dave and Kate can see the county courthouse clock tower, the school where they both taught, and the hospital where their children were born.

The setting is marvelous, the view fantastic. Still, through hard work and creativity, the couple has managed to improve their surroundings, not only for themselves but for the wild things, too.

About five years ago, Dave decided to turn work into play so to speak. He kicked the cows out of the five-acre, pastured hillside that surrounded the house. His goal was simply to let nature take her course.

Before the European invasion 300 years ago, a dense, mature forest covered most of what is now Ohio. Dave wanted to test an old theory that the land would replenish itself if allowed to go fallow.

So instead of cows grazing, grasses, plants, and seedlings began to sprout freely. Today, the results are impressive, producing rewards that even the amiable couple could never have imagined.

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On an all-too-brief return to our Ohio haunts, Dave led me on a walking tour of his mostly-spontaneous prairie. We traversed a looping pattern of mown paths that crisscrossed the rolling hillside topography.

Up and down and around we walked. All the while Dave pointed out some of the changes that had already naturally occurred. In some spots, he had helped things along with saplings and young trees he had planted. He checked on them like a mother hen guarding her chicks.

Of course, he encaged the plantings with wire mesh to stymie the ubiquitous and free-ranging deer that nibble the tender and tasty leaves and stalks. Sometimes it worked.

Wildflowers and plants now flourished in the prairie plots where heifers used to munch. The floral growth attracted appreciative pollinators that flitted and buzzed about while we ambled along. Bees and butterflies, flies, dragonflies, and damselflies all made appearances.

Holmes Co. OH, Millersburg OH

Eastern Bluebirds.

Several pairs of eastern bluebirds tended to their nests in boxes Dave had erected. Some had eggs, some second brood hatchlings. Others were empty. When we cleaned out an old nest from one birdhouse, a bluebird pair began building anew a short time later. Dave’s face glowed.

At the bird feeders, Ohio’s smallest to largest woodpeckers and several species in between vied for the suet offerings. Both pileated and red-bellied even brought their young to learn to forage for the protein.

On the parameters of the property, red-tailed hawks dove from shaded oak perches, unsuccessful in snagging a mammal breakfast. An indigo bunting began its song but stopped short, a typical behavior this late in the summer.

Cedar waxwings preened in the morning sunshine on dead ash snags. American goldfinches harvested thistledown for their late-season nests.

The gnarled, amber trunks of giant Osage orange trees served as living statuaries in the young reclaimed landscape. Their coarse-skin fruit hung lime-green and eerie, like so many Martian brains.

Once dormancy dominates the prairie, Dave will mow down this marvelous and necessary wildlife habitat to eliminate the human-made nuisance multi-flowered rose bushes. Of course, he’ll save the trees, both those he planted and the multitude of volunteers that are thriving.

That adage is coming true. Left to grow on its own, this come-what-may former pasture is an ever-changing habitat for all things bright and beautiful. The environmentally friendly owners couldn’t be more grateful.

Holmes Co. OH, Millersburg OH

Sunrise valley view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under birding, birds, column, friends, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, rural life, travel, writing

A long answer to a simple question

Garden pond by Bruce Stambaugh

The little garden pond in our backyard.

By Bruce Stambaugh

During his last visit to Ohio, my Virginian grandson, Davis, asked me a simple yet rather analytical question, befitting the inquisitive four-year-old, left-handed boy.

Davis and I were outside filling birdfeeders near the little garden pond positioned a few feet away from the back porch and just outside our kitchen window. Davis approached the pond’s edge, lined with mostly flat rocks scavenged from the neighbor’s farm fields.

“Poppy,” Davis queried, “Why do you have a pond?”

The bluntness of the simple question gave me pause. I straightened up, and thought long and hard before I answered him. The tone and intensity of his uncomplicated question told me that Davis really wanted to know.

As I contemplated my answer, Davis waited patiently, searching for the resident frogs and trying to count the darting goldfish. His long, strawberry blonde curls bounced with even the slightest move.

I was impressed with his youthful inquisitiveness. His question piqued my own consciousness regarding the purpose of the pond. I gave Davis the long answer.

I told him that when I retired as a principal, the staff and students at one of my schools gave me a gift certificate to build a garden pond. Apparently, I had let it slip that the pond was one thing I wanted to create once my school days were completed.

Of course, all that was probably too much information for Davis to process. Perhaps it mimicked a politician’s answer to a reporter’s intrusive direct question. Davis looked at me with his big blue eyes and repeated, “But why?”

I changed tactics. I gave him the words I figured he knew and that I loved.

Red-bellied Woodpecker by Bruce Stambaugh

A male Red-bellied Woodpecker enjoyed a sip from the little waterfalls on a cold December day.

I told Davis that the pond attracts life. I itemized a quick catalog of what I meant. The birds I enjoy watching, squirrels, rabbits, deer.

“Deer?” Davis quizzed long and slow, head tilted, hands thrown into the air.

I explained that although I had never actually seen deer drink there, I had found their hoof marks in the mud and snow around the oblong pool. We stepped away, and soon a chipping sparrow flitted to the gurgling little waterfall for a refreshing sip.

Grandson by Bruce Stambaugh

Davis, my inquisitive grandson.

I could almost see Davis’ gears churning beneath those flowing locks. I knew the inquisition would continue.

“Why do you have goldfish?” Davis asked next.

I lovingly touched his curly head and simply said, “So you and your brother can feed them.” Davis looked up at me and smiled, as if he sensed the patronization.

“The fish help keep the pond clean,” I continued. “They eat things that float in the water.” I prayed he didn’t ask for their scientific names.

My grandson’s pointed question helped me step back and appreciate my little garden pond all the more. I enjoy its abundant life, the alluring sound, the attractive and useful greenery in and around the pond, along with the attraction of fur and feathered wildlife year-round.

Those intrinsic pleasures more than compensate for the necessary regular maintenance required to keep the pond in a habitable state. Now, whenever I clean the pump filters, watch birds revel in the water and hear the frogs croak late at night, I’ll remember Davis’ clear question, too.

I know why I have a little pond with a miniature waterfall, brilliant orange goldfish and complementary water plants. “Because I like it,” which is what I should have told Davis in the first place.

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Morning watch

The young red-tailed hawk
perched upon the shocked sheaves
in the morning mist preying for breakfast.

Bruce Stambaugh
July 30, 2010

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Filed under poem

That’s what friends are for

By Bruce Stambaugh

The sky was clear blue, the morning’s puffy cumulous clouds having moved on. The north wind discouraged any humidity, and helped keep the temperatures tolerable.

Earlier my Amish neighbor had tethered the hay he had mown the evening before, fluffing it up for the breeze to blow away any remnant moisture. The barn swallows that had circled his horse drawn machine still skimmed the ocean of cut hay for insects.

I imagined the next day my neighbor, his family and his circle of friends would follow their given routine of making hay. I have marveled at their consistency each and every harvest of hay, oats and wheat. Their combined labor is as affable as it is proficient.

But isn’t that what friends are for? Like the classic Dionne Warwick/Stevie Wonder song belted out, “For good times, for bad times, I’ll be on your side forever more, that’s what friends are for.”

That pretty well sums it up. Friends want the best for you no matter what. They sympathize with you, empathize with you, are honest with you and you them. That friendly formula leads to trust, understanding and compassion.

As humans, we all need that. We are social beings, and unless you are Ted Kaczynski or Lizzie Borden, friends mean the world to you.

Sitting on the porch alone, I had to think about my circle of friends. I was humbled and honored to recall how many times others had come to my rescue or reassured me or celebrated with me or mourned with me or just took time for a visit.

These may seem like ordinary occurrences. But to me, they are extraordinary events, given that they all involved friends.

Food seems to be an important ingredient in friendship. We have enjoyed many a meal around a table with friends, meaning family, neighbors and acquaintances. No matter how tasty the entrées, the fellowship is always the dessert.

A home in Lakeside, OH by Bruce Stambaugh

A home in Lakeside, Ohio. - Bruce Stambaugh

Years ago when we moved from the home we built in the western part of the county to our current home in the east end, friends clamored to help us. Thanks to them, the difficult task was made simple.

Each time we visit our beloved Lakeside, Ohio we are greeted with hugs and kisses from people we may only see there. They are our vacation friends, but from the reactions you would never know it.

When I pushed my grandsons on side-by-side swings so high they bounced out of their seats, they giggled and laughed like little girls. The bright sun wasn’t the only thing warming me that morning.

Reading the blog by the parents of a special newborn child helped me better understand their critical situation. I marveled at how calm and objective their writings were, especially given their uncertain situation.

A birder friend called to tell me about a very rare bird in the neighborhood. Without his kind gesture, I would have missed the Vermilion Flycatcher.

Butterfy on cornflower by Bruce Stambaugh

A butterfly enjoyed the wildflowers in our backyard. - Bruce Stambaugh

Which reminds me that friends are not confined to human beings either. Pets, sunsets, thousands of blinking fireflies rising from the flowering alfalfa and ripening oats, robins chirping their contentment with the day all qualify as friends by my definition.

All these people and creatures and natural events have abundantly blessed me. Isn’t that what friends are for?

Holmes County sunset by Bruce Stambaugh

A recent sunset taken from our back porch. - Bruce Stambaugh

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