One Blue Heron Ministries project the past several years is restoring a wonderful farm of rolling hills and wetlands in northwest Steuben County. The 277-acre farm is owned by John Bachelor who inherited the place from his parents Charles and Mary Bachelor. Thanks to John;s vision to see wild places restored, former agricultural fields are now being planted and transformed into prairie, some mixed with oaks and other hardwoods, representative of original, open, oak savanna continuum, typical of our area prior to settlement.
The plantings are now several years old and the landscape is shaping up and displaying the seasonal moods of this ecosystem. This late winter and early spring, I had the good fortune of being on BHM tree crews, planting a couple of species of oak. This summer, fellow BHM teammate Rita Smith, and I have been working these fields, finding trees among the vegetation, weeding around them, flagging them, and eliminating nearby competition. It was a several day project, where our hands touched nearly 3,000 young tree saplings!
Doing that repetitive work, my mind wanders from what the landscape truly looked like 300 years ago. A bison may have stepped where now white-tailed deer walk. What was it like 20 years ago when cows roamed the fields or hay waved in July breezes? I touch a tree to adjust a ribbon and I wonder which on of the crew touched it similarly, as we careful planted it this spring, or the spring before, or before. It was mindless for us possibly, but maybe on this one tree we too paused to think about the past at that very spot, or dreamed of whit it will look like in 3 years, and 30, and 300.
Working these hot, summer, sultry days is a challenge in mid day heat, but oh what a joy in the very early morning when mist hangs heavy and the damp air still feels cool to the cheek. It was July. The soft colors of wildflowers in a light fog fading into the rolling hills are just spectacular. Later in the day, things brighten and yellows and blues become bolder.
On all days, bird calls become background sound. red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows, and common yellowthroat warblers are the most common in this habitat. On June 28, in the heat and doldrums of midday. I was jolted from work routine by a familiar bird call. As with other background sounds, it may have been there a while in my subconscious, but all of the sudden, it hits me!
“Hey, that’s a sedge wren!” I recognized the call and the bird was not far from me. I recognized the call from the late summer of 2014 when we had one in our home prairie restoration. The Peterson Field Guide to Birds describes it as, “chap chap chap chap chap chap chap chapppper-rrr” It is very distinctive once you learn it. After some searching, the bird popped from a low plant to a higher perch to be identified.
Sedge wrens are state endangered in Indiana. It is rarely found. Research shows that they sometimes nest in small groups, but those groups are nomadic and the colony might not stay put. This bird may be and unmated male, just displaying here for a while.
That is significant. That fact that it is here! Here now means this habitat we are restoring. That is exciting. The optimum habitat, again described in the Peterson guide, is “grassy meadows, sedgy meadows” It describes the bird as “Scarce, local.”
Now questions remain. Will it hang out long and become a serious resident? Will there be more next year and provide us a breeding population? That’s the magic of restoration. We do all we can to reintroduce the original components of this rich community return and are restored. Stay tuned on this sedge wren, an endangered species, and others!
This article, along with others, was featured in this month’s edition of Rustling Grass, a monthly e-newsletter put together by Blue Heron Ministries. To see our past editions of the newsletter, visit our archives page. To receive them directly to your inbox, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.