The Monk’s Farm
Becky Emerson Carlberg
Have I mentioned my fascination with chickens? The past 24 hours? Many serious birders do not consider the chicken as a worthy entry onto their bird list. The usual banter is “did you hear that red-breasted woodpecker in the tree a quarter of a mile away”? “That sounds like about 45 cedar waxwings in the hackberry.” In unison, all binoculars rise into position and aim directly toward where the suspect bird(s) may be hiding. I have never been on an Audubon field trip where we walked up to a chicken pen and I heard “there must be at least 30 Delaware, 8 Salmon Faverolles and 4 Barred Rock hens.”
We Deep Fork Audubon Society members appreciate all birds. Do you realize how difficult it is to locate and identify a tiny little sparrow zipping through the bushes? Now imagine a big, plump Delaware chicken cocking her head from side to side staring back at you. You are filled with the satisfaction that you have laid eyes on and correctly identified a real bird. It just gives your goosebumps, or would that be chicken bumps?
This past Saturday, the Audubon field trip took place at St. Gregory’s University. Our small congregation assembled by the quiet maze that consisted of a spiraling path of rocks and shiny pieces of marble that ended in the center where sat a large stone with recirculating water. We walked along the fence line, hearing crows in the distance. The wrens could be identified by the “thumb down a comb” sound, and the blue jays were dominating the airwaves for a time. Chirping cardinals darted from tree to tree and a pair of starlings flew overhead.
Our discussion of birds drifted to hummingbirds. One person still had hummingbirds at her feeders, but another had not seen any in at his feeders for a week. Our hummers left this past weekend and the feeders are disconcertingly quiet. The next wave of migrants may be the Monarch butterflies. One person in Alva, OK reported counting at least 500 at her flowers and trees on the 26th of September 26th 2015. Similar numbers are coming in from western Kansas as well, so these Monarchs are taking a more western route to the south.
The next stop was to locate birds around the Abbey Church. The church had recently developed a leak, and closer inspection revealed 3 cedar trees happily growing at the top of the tower! It has been decided to let the roofers deal with the tower forest. To the south, a new drainage pond 12 feet deep had been excavated during the early spring drought and filled up rapidly with torrential downpours. As the raw soil stabilizes and plant life recolonizes, the plan is to certify the area as a wildscape emphasizing habitat restoration and conservation. Our group walked past the pond and along the eastern edge. There we met one brother who has built 258 bluebird houses. All renditions have been made out of cedar logs. The dedicated gardener is responsible for planting the trees growing on the campus. He has wrapped sheets of metal around many of the pecan tree trunks to thwart the squirrels. The pecan crop looks plentiful this year.
Oh look, we see chickens. Off to themselves in their own special pen, the two roosters came up to investigate us. We shook hands with the official chicken master. He is no amateur but has an advanced degree in Avian Anatomy but he loves his flock. The breed of choice is the Delaware, a cross between Barred Plymouth Rocks and New Hampshires. The critically endangered Delawares, plump white chickens with black feathers at the neck and tail, are known for their good meat and brown egg production. Four Plymouth Barred Rocks were present, and who could ignore the eight Salmon Faverolles, affectionately known as the five toed, French feathered free-loaders. Most chickens have 4 toes, but this French variety has 5. They are supposed to be good egg layers, potentially producing 240 eggs per year per chicken, but these pets spend their time being personable, refusing to undergo the indignity of squawking and laying eggs.
The happy chickens have a moveable hen house with a solar electric fence. Out on the prairie they spend their time chasing bugs, scratching and dethatching the ground and adding fertilizer to the soil. Chickens don’t have teeth, so tiny rocks are swallowed down into the gizzard; the grit helps break down seeds and other foods. On the ground was a tray of oyster shell and granite grit. The concoction keeps the chickens healthy and the egg shells thick. The local, free range and pasture raised eggs are for sale. Let me tell you, the eggs taste divine compared to any commercially raised eggs.
The mourning doves sitting on the wire brought us back to the wild side. A Scissor-tailed flycatcher flew through the area, one of many that usually stay here during the season. Sparrows flitted in and out of the Vitex hedge, many of them the larger Harris sparrows. Mockingbirds dodged between the trees, landing on the highest branches. Our last stop was at “The Pond” also known as “Pearl Plunge” but no one knows the story behind this name. What is known is that this pond is 24 feet deep and partially supplies St. Gregory’s with water. Best yet, a Belted Kingfisher soared right above the water along the north side, first pausing in one tree, then firing off to another, quite vociferously. A tall cypress with some knees hidden in tall grass is growing on the pond’s south side. Beside it were some plants with green and prickly porcupine eggs. OK, they are cockleburs, but our birder Deanne set us straight on the proper common name.
The campus of St. Gregory’s in the spring and early summer will also have the large flycatcher Western Kingbird and Cedar Waxwings. The Western Kingbirds have probably already migrated south and no Cedar Waxwings were spotted.
We had good weather and a good time. My bird list now has a culinary section: Delaware, Plymouth Barred Rock and the five-toed feathered freeloader chickens. The chickens are after the Rio Grande Wild Turkeys. The turkeys have now scattered into the woods. It is time for survival of the smartest, quickest and fittest.
Interested in fresh chicken eggs? Contact FrBoniface@stgregorys.edu