Silent Fall

From John, October 24th, 2021

When we started harvesting grapes and making wine 37 years ago, one of the rituals of fall was battling the annual robin migration.  They arrived en masse in the Willamette Valley in October, our peak harvest season, and voraciously consumed our ripening grapes.  Clearly whoever assigned robins their genus and species names (Turdus migratorius) was aware of their destructive nature in the view of farmers.  As time passed us by, the fall migration through our vineyard slowly waned and eventually ceased to exist. The only robins that we see at harvest now are local populations.

robin nest in the Clos Electrique, spring 2018

At some point in the scheme of things, the fall robin migration was replaced by the fall migration of cedar waxwings (beautiful little songbirds who particularly adore our Nebbiolo).  Throughout the migrations, we have battled birds with every non-lethal invention of bird deterrence that we could find.  These have included bird netting, air canons, whistlers fired from pistols, fireworks, visual deterrents such as balloons that look like hawks, and finally even a drone to  chase them out of the vineyard.  Netting was always the single best defense but of course birds get caught in nets.  So every day was spent walking the vineyard and freeing them from their confinement. We never wanted to hurt them, just send them away to feast on someone else’s fruit!

Cameron 2010 Newsletter: The Birds!As recently as the 2010, we featured  birds in our Fall newsletter which parodied Alfred Hitchcock’s Birds.  But climate change and catastrophes in our environment have started to take their toll.  In 2020 after an early fall filled with fire and smoke, when the birds arrived they were clearly starving and in panic mode.  We left one section of the vineyard without any netting and  refused to try scare tactics so they could just have something to eat.

This year, with 2021 harvest looming, we hoped we were back to normal so we netted all of the vineyard sections that we knew would ripen during peak migration and I armed myself with an air canon and an arsenal of whistlers. Usually when the first fall storms sweep in, the birds come with it.  The first big storm came rolling in and with it were around 10-15 cedar waxwings and I figured “here we go”.  The next day they were gone and with the next storm there was still nothing.  And the storm after that, nothing.

I am sure that some farmers were happy not to have to spend precious time during harvest battling birds.  But for us, it was depressing.  What we are possibly witnessing is an ecosystem collapse.  Some individual species seem to be doing fine but these large migrations of songbirds seemed to have disappeared and that is nothing to celebrate.


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