Yesterday afternoon as I was about to turn into my driveway, a Great Blue Heron flew right in front of my truck, just a few feet overhead. It was an amazing sight to behold so close up.
For most of the year, the Heron lives in our peach orchard. Herons are usually thought of as swamp-dwelling fish eaters, but our farm Heron eats gophers and mice that it catches by stabbing its long, pointed beak into the ground. Recently it has been joined by a second Heron, and they have been expanding their territory to include the vineyard and other parts of our farm.
February is breeding month for Herons in California, so it’s pretty likely that our solitary heron has probably mated with its friend and started a family. It would be pretty wonderful to see a whole family of them out and about the farm. If all goes well, we may start seeing the youngsters in late April.
And speaking of breeding: our resident Quail population has hatched a new crop of chicks, and the adorable new families are everywhere in the grass and bushes. Sadly, most of the tiny chicks won’t make it to adulthood, as they are such easy prey for raptors, bluejays and other predators.
We have a large resident population of hawks and owls at Terra Firma. Our mixed landscape of trees, vines and open fields is perfect hunting and nesting habitat for them. It offers numerous perches from which they can scout out and dive bomb their prey — the voles, mice, and gophers that are destructive pests of our crops. During the day you can see red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks as well as hovering kites. At night, we see and hear both spooky, white-faced barn owls as well as pointy-eared great horned owls. During nesting season owls will kill up to 30 rodents a night to feed to their offspring.
Of course we also have dozens of varieties of smaller birds. Last week while I was writing the newsletter, fifty or more meadowlarks were foraging through the grass in the pistachio orchard outside the window. In the summer, large numbers of swallows frolick every afternoon in the air above our vegetable fields, feasting on flying insects. While some of types of birds are a nuisance to us as farmers, more often they are eating their weight in bugs every day.
Many farms provide a far more appealing environment for birds than the shopping malls and office parks that are steadily occupying more and more of our state. But I believe our farm offers a better facsimile of an intact ecosystem than most. I hope it pleases you to know that by supporting our farm, you are helping provide so much habitat to so many different birds.