Monday, May 25, 2009

Meadows Gone to Hay

Male bobolink.

Lucky for our grassland-nesting birds, it's been a wet spring. So I suspect (or hope) that the meadowlarks and field sparrows, and grasshopper and Henslow's sparrows, and bobolinks have gotten their first broods off successfully.

Hay fields are a unique habitat type. When the hay is cut in early May, the grassland birds have no chance. Many nest are destroyed and some brooding females killed when the fields are cut. But without regular cutting (which probably accomplishes the same thing the grazing bison herds did until they were wiped out about 250 years ago) the fields turn to brush, then woods, over time. So the same grassland-nesting birds that may perish from the cutting also benefit from it.
Raking the hay into rows.

Four days of dry weather in the forecast means it's time to cut hay here in southeastern Ohio. So knee-high lush grass is reduced to cuttings and left over night. The next afternoon, if the air is dry, the hay gets raked into rows. Another day or so and the rows get baled. Around here lots of farmers use the large round bales. Some hay-makers leave the rolls wherever they drop off the baler. Others move the giant round rolls around and into neat straight-line groupings.

Raked hay waiting to be baled.

I love the smell of new-mown hay and I like seeing the bales lying around the cut fields. But I'm always glad when the spring is wet and cold and the hay cutting has to wait until the end of May to give the nesting birds a fair chance.

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