Friday, August 19, 2022

Life on the Edges

We stopped at an overlook to view the Mississippi River earlier this week when we took a short, much needed, break.  And, we did what most everyone should do when they go to an overlook.  We looked out to the area the overlook was meant to encourage us to see.  And, we took our time to enjoy the Mighty Miss in all its glory.

We watched while a van filled with a three-generation family piled out and lined up for the obligatory family photo in front of the river and then piled right back in and left not long after arriving.  Box checked, on to the next box.

We, on the other hand, were busy being awed by nature - and it wasn't just the river that we were looking at.

There was some Goldenrod blooming right next to the parking area and we noticed that there was an AMAZING amount of activity on the flowering stems of these plants.  And, it wasn't just one type of insect.  We saw bees, flies, butterflies....  just, lots of critters!

At another location on a gravel road near Rush Creek, we saw more Goldenrod blooming with some Monarda (Bee Balm or Wild Bergamot) next to it.  Both are excellent pollinator habitat plants, though we didn't see quite the activity the plants at the overlook provided us.  I am certain it had something to do with time of day and other conditions.  But, there was certainly activity in most of the places we observed flowering plants.

There were patches of Hoary Vervain that exhibited a significant amount of activity.  Much of that activity consisted of various types of bumble bees.  We were amazed by the large patches of this perennial wildflower in the Mississippi River valley this time of year.  

There was even one area by a homestead that exhibited a very dense and healthy stand of this plant.  Since it was next to someone's house, we didn't feel comfortable with taking photos.  But, there were several opportunities later in other locations to view the Vervain up close and personal.

Because Tammy can't do too much walking and is limited to flat and even surfaces, we were constricted to observing nature from the edges of human environment (roads, parking areas, etc).  While we might have liked to have done a little hiking, we still took great pleasure in observing all of the life on the edges.

The edges of the road exhibited many different wildflowers and pollinators.  The edges of a stream gave us an opportunity to see different birds, insects and plants.  The edges of the river provided us with chances to see lotus flowers and wading birds like the Great Blue Heron.  We witnessed how the edges of a wooded area with the edge of an open/prairie area resulted in a mix of wildlife with the Eastern Wood Pewee constantly telling us it was out and about in the woods and the Tufted Titmouse singing both in the woods and on the edges.  The Mississippi River itself was providing a place for American White Pelicans to stake out sections for their own personal hunting ground.

There were single plants and sometimes small patches of Cardinal Flower here and there near the Mississippi River when we took some time to drive around a park that was situated on the riverbank and some the backwaters.  We know this plant well from our days trying to make perennial flower plantings on the farm and in our prior residences.  

It's actually a bit of a shock to see a plant that you associate with a groomed perennial garden showing up in the wild.  Yet, this gives me some hope that perhaps we can introduce (or re-introduce) some of these plants so that they gain a bit more of a foothold in the wild spaces on our farm.  We would welcome Cardinal Flower, Wild Bergamot and Goldenrod here.  In fact, we do have some of the last two, but we wouldn't cry if we had a bit more.

One of the things that struck me the most was that the activity on the plants we observed during our short break from the farm is both familiar and different to us.

In the past, at some of our prior living locations, we have seen plants covered in pollinators.  For example, we had healthy hyssop at a couple of locations that was covered in a wide range of beneficial insects.  What I do not recall seeing was the wide variety of critters we saw on this short excursion.  Whether that is because we didn't have so much variety or I did not know what to look for them - I'll never know for certain.

I can also say that, despite our efforts to provide habitat and despite having Goldenrod and other excellent pollinator plants, our farm still struggles to see the activity I would expect for the amount of flowering plants we have here.  We know part of the issue is that our small farm is surrounded by less hospital lands for these pollinators.  The monocropped fields around us have fewer edges, providing less opportunity for a variety of living beings.

I suppose I could be discouraged by this because I would like to see this kind of activity on our farm.  Instead, I have come to realize that we are blessed with significant pollinator and beneficial insect activity on our farm.  Some of it through actions we have taken (or not taken - if you will) and most of it simply because nature is amazing.

We'll just keep creating and maintaining edges and wild spaces on our farm and hope we are doing the right things - adjusting each time we learn more.  And we'll keep on learning so we can appreciate all of the life on the edges.

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