Chronicles of a Dirt Farmer: For the Birds

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E.B. pops his head up nervously and lets loose a shrill, repeating cry of concern.

“Did you see that owl he just flushed on his flight?” Rebecca asks me, tightening E.B.’s traces as he shifts on her gloved hand. Large great horned owls eat hybrid little falcons like E.B., who is understandably worried. To calm him, Rebecca pops his hood on his head, pulling it shut by pinching the string between the fingers of one hand and catching the other string in her mouth. Her other hand is busy providing a perch for her falcon.

E.B. is one of five birds that Rebecca of Authentic Abatement has brought with her this year to patrol the RSV vineyards. Her territory has increased – last year we had her working just the Three Amigos Vineyard. This year, she patrols those acres as well as the skies above our Vandal Vineyard and Scintilla Sonoma Vineyard.

In the truck

credit Debby Zygielbaum

Our conversations center on where we’ve seen birds and when, their patterns and activity. Rebecca needs to appear at just the right moment to fly her falcons. A lot of her time when she first shows up is reconnaissance. After awhile, the job gets easier since starlings are smart – soon they fly away at the sight of her truck and it becomes almost unnecessary for Rebecca to fly her birds.

That frustrates the falcons – one day I came upon Rebecca searching for her little peregrine. He likes to disappear if he gets bored waiting for her to flush something. To aid her search, she brought out her tracking antenna – each of her birds gets a small transmitter placed on its tail before she flies them. She can tell if they are flying or sitting by the way she holds the receiver, how far or near by the way it beeps. The ancient art of falconry made modern. After a merry chase through the vineyards, the peregrine lands on the hood of Rebecca’s truck. Who knew they had a sense of humor?

For the second year in a row, my bird netting sits tightly rolled and neatly stacked in our shop. Nor did I rent any Zon cannons. Instead, Rebecca rolls around our vineyards in her black truck, her collie mix Alec riding shot gun, birds on perches in the back seat of the extended cab. And with the solitary vigilance of a woman, her dog, and her birds, has removed the headache of encasing my vines in plastic and the unseemly, if regular, booming of the bird cannons.

 

Debby Zygielbaum is the Vineyard Manager (or, as she’s fond of saying, ‘Dirt Farmer’), at Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Napa and a frequent contributor on Nopalize. She can be found @walkthevine on Twitter and Instagram.