There is something about nature’s wild creatures that always intrigues. Majestic, elusive, and one of our last indigenous connections. Wildlife is an important piece of our permaculture puzzle and our vision to support biodiversity here on the farm.
In the few short months that we’ve been in Montana, we have realized that this property is already rich with creatures big and small. From elk to quail, it has become our duty as stewards to the land, and as a part of nature ourselves, to consider the needs of ecological balance.
One of the first steps in permaculture design is OBSERVATION. While it sounds simple, our human species is arguably losing the ability to slow down long enough to watch natural systems at work without interrupting the intricacies in a desire to control the outcome.
With a new found longing to live differently, our family is trying to find the balance between time for true observation AND time for taking the necessary steps to begin building our vision of a farmstead full of life and abundance.
Protecting the natural paths that animals take — the wildlife corridors — and watching for imbalances in food webs that are so magically balanced when working properly, are keys to understanding how to work with the earth.
We look forward to observation through the seasons — noticing what critters come and go as the weather changes.
Why biodiversity? The strength of the system becomes more resilient with a greater mix of species. Wildlife supports a healthy ecosystem, healthy human life, healthy culture, and part of the solution to climate change.
Quail & Cottontails
Our first week here, we were welcomed by flocks of quail and a fluffle of cottontail bunnies. It was captivating to watch them dance about, not just with their own kind, BUT with each other! Who knew?
My first encounters with the quail nearly knocked me off my feet as their helicopter sounding flutter into the air always caught me off guard. Now, their unique exit brings me joy and smiles.
The hippitty-hop of the cottontails as they dart about, nibbling on forage, and nesting in shrubs close to the house, help to manage weeds and the smaller strands of the food web.
Coyotes & Foxes
For the holidays, the boys both received a trail cam to see if they could capture any images of what creatures were lurking around in the middle of the night. On the very first evening, our youngest son caught this coyote!
Not only do we have this visual evidence of their presence, but we’ve had a few nights listening to their eyrie, high-pitched, yipping howls right outside our windows.
This little fox has also been spotted sneaking about, and seen at night on the trail cam. Both foxes and coyotes help to keep smaller critter populations in check, but selfishly, we would like to keep them away from our pet cats.
Early in February we had the treat of watching over 300 elk pass through our land!!! 300 elk! Through the draw, up and down small hills, and across the cow pastures. They dispersed in smaller groups — over the fence, the dignified statures moved south.
Lucky for us, about two dozen stayed for the day, making the most of grazing and taking in their surroundings, before catching up with the rest of the herd.
We have a plethora of deer (both mule and white tail). We’ve learned their hangout spots, their travel paths, and their routine. They are elusive when they need to be, curious and playful, and highly aware — fleeing danger (including our dogs) before any real threats arise.
An up-close look tells the story of a tough life in the wild — tattered ears and battle scars.
While many wild creatures quietly move through their day, geese do not! They are LOUD, disruptive, and collectively brilliant.
Upon being startled, their disorganization is rowdy, but once their wings take them high enough, the group becomes a sight of coordinated beauty.
We’ve also been joined by bald eagles, hawks, owls and falcons. Big horn sheep hang out just down the road, and we’ve been told of the wolves, bears, and mountain lions looming in the nearby mountains.
As we learn how to become more self-sufficient, connect to nature on a more respectful level, we are constantly considering the concept of balance. How do we take only our share for survival? How do we teach our boys to do the same?
These two ragamuffins have spent hours learning about the behaviors of quail — where they hang out, how they move together, what they eat, and how to sneak up on them to observe their ways.
The boys have a natural desire to learn survivalism, and part of that interest is how to feed themselves in the wild. They have now successfully hunted five quail — verbally giving thanks to the birds, processing them themselves, leaving innards for other animals, using feathers to tie flies for fishing, and learning how to cook the meat.
The next question on the list is how do we intermix domesticated animals with wild creatures to find harmony for all? In this photo above we see elk, cattle, and geese all enjoying the pasture for grazing.
As we’ve been watching the movement of the cattle on our property, we’ve noticed that birds of all types follow these large domesticated animals — working in tandem to share the space.
As we work on our farm plans, we are trying to consider what both wildlife animals and our farm animals need to find health and happiness, and steer clear of mass devastation. We must remember that in order for something to live, something must die — there will be ups and downs, but planetary longevity requires ecological diversity.
We are in this together!