by Ann Collins and Catherine Johnson
Catherine Johnson and I had a spectacularly rare treat this week. We were visiting the Bird and Bee Farm, where Catherine has created a marvelous wildflower garden. If you haven’t seen it, you really must go. It is full of color, texture, and scents. Guinea fowl and chickens roam free, gobbling up grasshoppers and other noxious critters. Catherine even shares the overflow (flowers, not grasshoppers!).
Gene and Cindy Rek have turned their hundred-acre property into a prairie paradise. You may already know they sell laying hens of every description. They also sell Rio Grande turkeys, guinea fowl, and Peking ducks.* This week they added another member of the feather family: Bobwhite Quail.
After an early morning trip to Bastrop, they came back with two flax boxes with breathing holed punched in them. Inside were thirty pairs of breedign quail. Gene carried the boxes out in some tall grass and gently set them down. He cut the strings on box #1 and carefully lifted the lid, revealing an almost-solid carpet of mottled brown feathers.
Just as we were taking in the scene, it suddenly erupted and flew away. Not at all what I was expecting!
Here’s what we saw:
The next box we were somewhat prepared for, but it was just as exciting when it was opened and thirty quail breathed a sigh of ecstasy and got their first taste of prairie freedom.
While we stood, adjusting to this miracle of Nature, the birds immediately started calling to one another with their signature whistle of, “Bob White!”
Later we saw several of them on the pond margins, trying to make sense of this incredible gift they had been given. Hopefully, most will survive to repopulate an area that was once their native habitat before every scrap of nature was cleared away for cattle, monocultures, and civilization, before pesticides, GMOs, and chemicals.
These birds were all full grown, but future plans include day-old chicks to be raised in the barn and released later this summer.
There will be a coming out party when they are old enough, and all of you are invited to the celebration. Cindy will let us know when it is. It will be fun: a step back in time and a step forward toward restoration of a native prairie, right here in Milam County.
Mark your calendars!
*The farm is open only by appointment, and they are booked many weeks ahead. Please call them at (512) 808-8533 to reserve an opening! You can drop by and look at the gardens at any time.