The year began at Shady Pond with the planting of Field E; the field nearest the tree farm entrance. That project proved to be one of those 'good news/bad news' events. The bad news was two major order errors; the first was made by one of our nurseries in Georgia and the other at our nursery in Washington State. Because of the planting technique we use such shipping errors quickly become catastrophic problems. Since we plant the rows in sequence, the location of row C, for instance, determines the location of row D. And if the trees designated for planting in row C are not on site then an empty row has to be included in order to plant the remainder of the field. This is not a happy situation. It took nearly 2-weeks to complete the planting of Field E, a task normally completed in a day and a half; frustrating but all's well that ends well.
Now the good news. several hundred test Leylands were planted in Field E. We had observed that one of the Leighton Green Leylands growing in that field prior to its renovation appeared to be significantly disease resistant. And since those of us who have handled Leylands over long time periods theorize that some genetic variation seems evident despite the fact that they are clones, we decided to propagate the special Leighton Green. Yes, believe it or not, we actually cloned a clone. With help from Gray Anderson, a fellow grower with the nursery facilities needed for propagation, about 800-plants from the special tree were rooted. And interestingly, Shady Pond's share of the little trees were planted in the same field that was home to the source tree. The remainder were made available to competent growers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama for further observation. This project certainly qualifies as fun stuff and may well produce positive results not only for the Christmas tree industry but the landscape industry as well.
As usual, 2015 passed with lightning speed and Christmas time is here once again. So we hope to see each of you again at this magical time of year.
Christmas Tree Varieties:
March 1 was a cold day late last winter. That Sunday I was working in the garage adjoining the main house and spent the morning completing a tedious repair on the pressure washer used to clean the Christmas tree equipment. Removing the mixture of pitch and foliage tissue that builds up on the machinery is no easy task. It adheres to surfaces like glue and is extremely corrosive due to its natural acidity. Early on we learned that ordinary cleaning devices had little effect on the tree residue. But extremely hot water applied at very high pressure removes the gooey coating nicely. We use a large pressure washer with an output of 105 HP. It sprays water near the boiling point at a pressure of 1800 PSI and is far beyond the cleaning equipment commonly seen at the 'big box' stores. You dare not use it on your house or there would be nothing left.
I had discovered a crack in one of the bus bars supplying electrical power to the burner ignitor. This is a critical component that ignites a finely atomized mist of diesel fuel that heats the water after it is pressurized. The replacement of the bus bar was more than a bit nerve-racking since the ignitor operates at 10,000 volts. And any ignitor overhaul includes realignment of the electrodes to obtain the correct spark gap and spark location just above the diesel mist. But such things are part of my world and all went well.
After having lunch I completed the necessary testing and performance verification, and busied myself wrapping and storing high pressure hoses and over-sized power cords. And as I picked-up screwdrivers and wrenches, I heard a splash in the pond a short distance away. Now splashes in the pond are common and rarely deserve investigation. But this splash sounded odd. Rather than the sharp crisp sound of a fish strike, it sounded soft and somewhat muffled. It was more like the sound of a seat cushion or life preserver thrown in the water while boating.
I leisurely made my way to the bank of the pond and when I arrived there I could not believe my eyes. There was a Bald Eagle in the pond. Now, we Gernons have remained at Shady Pond for more than a half century and there has never been so much as a distant sighting of a Bald Eagle much less one visiting at ground level; not ever. The Eagle was in the water and his position was truly bewildering. He had his immense wings fully extended as if he were soaring but he apparently had done so in the water to keep himself afloat. He attempted to fly over and over again but was unable to do so. Things did not look good. The Eagle seemed to be in big trouble. My heart sank. Was he injured? Had he been shot? Had he been electrocuted flying through power lines? Or, had he eaten some pesticide contaminated prey? I tried to think of as many scenarios as I could. And would it be possible for me to devise a plan quickly to help this wonderful and elegant product of nature?
With flight clearly out of reach, the Bald Eagle began to paddle with his wings. The elusive Bald Eagle was actually doing the breast stroke. Although his success in swimming was greater than in flying, it was extremely labored. The prognosis was still quite grim. He would paddle a bit then rest, and paddle a bit more then rest again. He was slowly heading to shore, and to me. Believing that his apparent willingness to tolerate close human contact had to be driven by some compelling need, my concern for his condition worsened; but only for a moment. Because the big bird decided to attempt flight one final time. It worked. And those powerful wings lifted him above the water ever so slightly. But it was just enough to keep going. And as his legs and talons emerged from the pond the reason flight, and even swimming, had been such a struggle became instantly clear. I had no idea the pond had fish in it quite that large. Positive identification of the Eagle's catch was difficult under the circumstances but it seemed to be a really big largemouth bass.
The fish wiggled and squirmed and shook trying to free itself from the Eagle's grip but that would never occur. With his cargo securely in tow, and considering the obvious weight of the bass, the big bird had to circle the pond twice before attaining sufficient altitude to clear the surrounding Live Oaks. And when he did, his track was due east heading to the Honey Island Swamp, his chosen realm. And the encounter of a lifetime had drawn to a close. The Bald Eagle was going home with lunch for all.
In the days that followed my interlude with the Eagle, it was impossible not to relive and analyze every detail. And since I had consciously decided not to leave the scene to get my Nikon for fear of missing some critical part of the event, I had to rely on the images stored in my mind. Nonetheless, they were incredibly vivid.
In order to build a comprehensive understanding of all I had learned, I accessed several sources of ornithological data for Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).
Without exception the Eagle's vision is the quality most discussed. Compared to a human with absolutely perfect vision, the Eagle's sight is four times better. And the retina in the Eagle's eye has sensory components that allow him to see light in the ultraviolet range. Humans have no such ability. Natural liquids such as urine are known to reflect UV making it possible for Bald Eagle to see the urine trail left by some categories of potential prey. Clearly, those animals that 'mark' their path have little defense against Eagles who can simply 'follow the dots'. Fortunately for the little critters, Eagles would rather eat fish; an excellent choice.
Eagles prefer to soar at an altitude of about 1,000-feet. And they dive to earth when they spot potential prey. The dive maneuver is executed with wings folded and beak first. In a dive, Eagles can reach speeds approaching 100 MPH*. This means they are descending at the rate of nearly 150-feet per second. So, they can reach their prey in only 6.5-seconds. Defense against such extreme physical abilities is almost impossible.
The Bald Eagle's bones and feather shafts are hollow. This reduces their fixed weight allowing them to carry heavier loads.
Although these technical details certainly filled some of the blanks remaining after my time with the big raptor, they fell short in explaining the behavior I personally witnessed. The Bald Eagle I found floating in the pond was resourceful, perseverant, skilled, creative, determined, and exceptionally well prepared for the task at hand. He knew exactly how to use his physical attributes to accomplish his goal effectively. The Eagle was truly impressive with qualities far beyond just physical beauty.
I am convinced that at the moment he entered his dive to the pond he already had several alternative plans of departure in place as follows.
Note that none of the four plans included failure. Failure was not an option. The big fish was going to accompany the Bald Eagle back to the Swamp one way or another. This was going to happen.
Now given all that I learned in this unexpected encounter that cold afternoon, is it not fitting that those who have gone before us chose the Bald Eagle as our national symbol? Much, if not all, the current ornithological data on the Bald Eagle did not exist when that choice was made in 1782. So, they had to base their decision on the very same behavior that I witnessed. Our founders knew and apparently had known for some time what I had only just learned. I felt embarrassed, ill informed, and unaware. How could I have totally missed this? They knew the Bald Eagle would communicate to all with a reason to know, friend or foe, what to expect in dealing with the United States of America. They knew the Bald Eagle would make clear that for Americans failure is not an option.
*Having an occasionally bizarre imagination I couldn't help but envision the Eagle wearing goggles and a little baseball cap turned backwards so as not to blow off en route.
Beginning in about mid-August large flocks of Canada Geese began visiting Shady Pond on nearly a daily basis. The first sighting was in the field paralleling the front fence line. They took-off from that area and organized themselves in the characteristic V-formation with amazing speed. As they settled into flight and were heading to the barn, the individual birds seemed to actually get longer as they stretched their necks straight for flight.
On other occasions, they would pass overhead so low that we could actually hear the sound of the air under their wings; a truly unique experience.
Then there were reports of flock sightings at other sites around the Pearl River/Maude area. And the flock grew to 60-80 birds. Although there was some honking, the flock was unusually quiet. The birds had absolutely no interest in the pond and consistently spent their time grazing in the fields.
Only recently we discovered that they were eating Bahia grass seeds. Careful inspection of the photograph of the geese in the field reveals that the goose, photo right, is stretching upward to grab a Bahia seedhead with its bill. They then pull the seedhead through their bill stripping the seeds off. All that's left to do is swallow. The seeds are very nutritious, and since there is lots of Bahia growing at Shady Pond, the flock will be well feed.
The geese have certainly been a nice addition to the area. And all the residents have enjoyed seeing them feeding among the Christmas trees. We hope they will stop by for a visit during the season, so keep your cameras handy.
The Lynchards will be returning this season with the honey the bees were able to store during the spring and summer. They are planning to have a variety of jar sizes from small gift jars to large jars for the serious honey eaters. Barbara, Lawrence, and Debbie will be at Shady Pond on weekends.
So, when you visit Shady Pond this season be sure to pickup a few jars of Lynchard honey. It makes a thoughtful stocking stuffer or a yummy light breakfast with butter on toasted raisin bread. It will be available plain or creamed.
You can also contact the Lynchards directly at 985-863-0136.