Thursday, June 5, 2008

Sky Watch Friday-Wildlife In The Meadow

The weather has been very unsettled lately providing many opportunities for photographing unique cloud formations. I spend most early mornings and late evenings at this time of year at a favorite meadow, which I described in the previous post. I captured these beautiful cumulus clouds as I was leaving the area on last Friday Morning.

Canon 40D: 17-40mmF4L at 17mm 1/750 sec. f8 ISO 100

Late May and early June brings exciting action to the outdoors. The young of many species are born in this time frame. A family of woodchucks made the day on the morning of June 1. I had loaned "Salty" of Country Captures my 100-400mm lens since I seldom used it. He liked it so well that he purchased one recently, so I pressed mine back into service and I am finding that it works much better on the Canon 40D than it did on the 10D. I had found that this lens would not stand up to severe cropping on the 10D while the superb 500mmF4 and the 70-200mm 2.8 would. Salty used the lens on a Canon 30D and it was obvious that this lens performed much better on that camera. I am pleased with the results so far on the 40D. This lens is not as sharp as the 500mmf4, but one misses a lot of opportunities with that lens because of the difficulty of getting it in action unless one is on stand with it mounted on a tripod, waiting for wildlife to appear. The 100-400mm allows one to take the quick shot of a situation that is not going to last.

Canon 40D-100-400mmLF3.5-5.6 1/180sec. f5.6 ISO 400

I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the first newborn fawns. This is perhaps my favorite doe. She is totally acclimated to me and spends a lot of time feeding near my stand. She is six years old. She had a single fawns for two years, but had a set of twins last year-one a buck and the other a doe. Judging from the size of her distended abdomen I predict that she will have twins again this year, but I may or may not see them. It is common for deer to lose one or all of their fawns due to problems in the birthing process or predation. In this area the most common predators are coyotes and black bears. Does are more likely to lose the fawns at birth following a severe winter as the strain of survival can negatively impact the fawns development. Since it was a mild winter the chances for survival are excellent.

Canon 40D-100-400mmLF3.5-5.6 1/180sec. f5.6 ISO 400

In all likelihood she will give birth in the next few days. This morning I noticed that she did not follow her fawns from last year when they went to the mountain to lie up for the day, but slipped into the brush near a stream. This is a good indication that birthing time is quite near.

I hope to be able to post photographs of the newborn soon, but they do not always co-operate. I have seen fawns within a day of when they were born, but sometimes it is a week or more until they appear. (One can tell birth has occurred by observing the doe closely. If she looks like the doe above one day and appears the next with sunken flanks and a smaller abdomen, one knows the fawns have been born.)

For more Sky Watch photographs visit Tom at Wigger's World

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Planting A Meadow For Wildlife

There are likely several approaches that work quite well in planting a meadow for wildlife, but over the years I have adopted an approach which we shall discuss today.

One must have access to land and equipment in order to pursue a project such as this. I use a farm tractor to prepare the land. First it is plowed and then disked to work the soil into suitable condition. At that point I put seed into a broadcast seeder which mounts on the tractor's three point hitch and plant the basic mixture which serves as a cover crop during the first year. After this planting, I then repeat the process using Ladino Clover which will make an excellent forage crop during the second year.

If one has a grain drill, these operations can be combined into one operation, but drills are so expensive as to preclude buying one solely for this purpose. Many use a no-till drill to perform the same function. In this case the land is sprayed with a herbicide which kills the original vegetation and then the ground is seeded with a drill which is able to place the seed into the earth. I have never felt comfortable with this process as I do not like the idea of killing vast amounts of vegetation with chemicals. It doesn't seem that this is best for wildlife or humans either! This approach has taken over much of modern agriculture and is actually pushed as a soil conservation concept. A Plow turns up the soil, leaving no root network, and gives the maximum potential for soil erosion if done improperly. Treating the soil with chemicals leaves the root system intact and thus prevents soil erosion.

My favorite mixture is composed of oats and Essex dwarf rape for cover crop. The oats grow tall and ripen with a head of seeds, which is the same as the light colored seeds in the picture below.
This crop is a favorite food of whitetail deer, turkeys, and many varieties of birds. It usually ripens sometime in July. Essex dwarf rape is the small black seed, it is primarily a forage crop for the whitetails. In an area of low deer population this plant will also develop a seed head in addition to providing forage throughout the winter. A large amount of it will likely re-emerge in the following spring. In an area with a large deer population such as where this is planted, it is mostly eaten by mid-summer.

Essex Dwarf Rape and Oats

Perhaps the key ingredient for my intended use is Ladino Clover which grows in the understory of the grain field during the first year, but turns into a carpet of nutritious grass the following year.

Ladino Clover Seed

Oats and Rape-soon after sprouting. The oats are the long, thin stalks

Ladino Clover in the second year

The above photo shows a meadow, as I like to see it in late spring and early summer. A meadow such as this should host a thriving wildlife and insect community.

The tall plants are thistles. They give my farmer friends nightmares and they can't understand why I don't remove them. The thistles will provide food to bees and butterflies when it blooms and gives superb photo opportunities, but the farmers are correct in their case as these cause problems when they grow in hay or pasture fields. They may also be a problem if they are not controlled in a wildlife meadow. They may become so thick as to kill the grass. I usually implement a judicious mowing policy to keep the thistles and tall grasses under control. It is a delicate balance. If the grass and thistle, are too thick and tall it is impossible to see the wildlife that visits, but a field that is mowed closely provides little food for wildlife and is an unattractive background for photographs as well.

Mixture Planting Information:
Oats: 2 bushel per acre
Essex Dwarf Rape: 2 lbs per acre
Ladino Clover: 8 lbs. per acre
Fertilizer: about 200lbs. per acre

This should be planted from early April through early May if possible to have the best chance of succeeding should the weather turn dry in the summer.