Silk Hope gets its name from a little piece of rural history. Legend has it that many decades ago, a local farmer travelled to China and brought back some mulberry trees. With the idea of starting a new silk industry here in the Carolinas, the farmer planted the trees, and waited several years for them to grow. When the trees were large enough to harvest, silk worms were placed on the leaves. . .but they wouldn't eat. The farmer had planted the wrong species of mulberry tree!!!!
The attempt at creating a silk industry might have been a disaster, but it hasn't deterred Silk Hope from becoming a resilient farm community. Much of the productive land today is planted in monoculture crops, like corn and soybeans, not unlike the rest of rural America. However, there are plenty of cattle farms in the area, which can provide ideal hunting grounds for Barn Owls.
When scouting land around Silk Hope for our Barn Owl Initiative, I asked Bo Howes of Triangle Land Conservancy if he had any leads. It turns out that TLC had bought some easements around a large cattle farm, and most of the land was in pasture. He sent me the ArcGIS maps of the property, and I quickly realized the property was perfect for one of our nest boxes.
I then looked at the map a little closer. The layout seemed strangely familiar. The address seemed familiar too. Wait a minute! I knew this property!!!! Of all the farms in Silk Hope, I knew this exact property. . .because I had lived on it!!!
Back in 1997, when I first moved to North Carolina, it was in Silk Hope that I landed. I rented an old rustic cabin on a large farm, and commuted into Carrboro and Chapel Hill for work. It was a magical time for me. I remember being very in touch with the seasons, even the phases of the moon, and all the wildlife sounds on the property. I loved that farm!!! Here's the old cabin as it looks today.
I spoke with the landowners, who remembered me, and they quickly agreed to host a Barn Owl box. They were particularly pleased with the prospect of owls eating the mice, voles, and cotton rats on the property. Barn Owls are called Barn Owls for a reason. They like to roost and nest in structures where there is plenty of food, and rodents are the main course on the menu.
Modern structures, however, don't always have the right kinds of rafters necessary to support owls. So instead of putting a nest box in one of the barns, we decided to go with our trusted pole mount system. On a chilly day in early December, we loaded up the truck, and took the scenic route out to the Cohen farm in Silk Hope, with the mission of installing Box 12. We quickly decided on an open field. An embedded rock in the ground made this section too dangerous for the farmer to mow, but provided a nice flat spot for a nest box.
Within minutes, the team was at work. Norm screwed the flange to the base of the box. Ken used his smartphone Apps to assess level ground, and to find the right direction for the nest hole. I placed mulch in the box, to prevent the excess movement of any potential owl eggs. Once the system was ready, Ken did his best Iwo Jima impression.
Box number 12 is fully installed and ready for residents!! This is our first nest box in Chatham County, and represents another opportunity for re-establishing Barn Owls in the Piedmont. We hope to have more boxes up in Chatham soon.
Look closely at the next photograph, and you will see the nest box in the distance. Open pasture plus barn structures equals Club Med for Barn Owls. Hopefully a migrating juvenile will recognize the opportunities here and want to stay.
And no, Barn Owls will not eat your chickens, or your cats for that matter.
All in all it was a special day. Ken made a new friend.
This young calf seemed eager to make new acquaintances.
This beautiful farm in rural Chatham County, with hundreds of acres of open pasture, offers new hope to a very special bird. Maybe one day, if our nesting program is successful, they will rename this community Owl Hope. Let's hope our nest boxes don't prove to be the wrong type of mulberry tree!