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Hansville vineyard wages war on birds
On a crisp morning, Hansville Hill Vineyard owner Bud Young pauses at the end of a row of vines and takes in an idyllic view.
An expanse of grapevines are spread across the hillside below him. Across Hansville Road, a barn and silo are bathed in sun and, beyond them, the tops of the Olympic Mountains peek over the treeline.
From somewhere across the hillside an air cannon thunders, its report rolls across still valley.
So continues Bud Young’s battle with birds.
The air cannons are just the latest in a series of tools Young employed to scare birds from his vines. Last year, birds carried away about 80 percent of the vineyard’s first harvest, more than eight tons of grapes.
While the cannons kept robins and blackbirds at bay, their noise ruffled the feathers of some neighbors, who have lodged complaints with the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and county.
So, last week, Young and a handful of volunteers began stringing six miles of bird netting. With a second harvest just weeks away, Young refuses to allow another pillaging.
“We didn’t build all this just to feed the birds,” he said.
Young, a tax accountant and hobby winemaker, has been working toward this harvest since 1996, when he and wife Patricia moved to Kitsap in search of a site for a vineyard.
They collected vine starts and advice from veteran Bainbridge viticulturist Gerard Bentryn, and spent five years searching for the perfect property.
They settled on a 17-acre parcel on the corner of Hansville Road in a microclimate Young said is ideal for grape growing. A southwest-facing hillside gives the vines maximum exposure to afternoon sun. The gently dished valley is sheltered from chill winds and enjoys significantly less rainfall than the Poulsbo area.
The Youngs, with the help of neighbors, installed an elaborate stormwater retention system and strung wire for 160 rows of grapes. This month, they’re preparing for its second harvest of Pinot Noir, which they’ll sell to other hobby winemakers and small wineries. They also have planted Pinot Gris, Siegerebe, Madelaine Angevine and Muller Thurgau varieties.
Maintaining the vines is a massive undertaking, with cycles of pruning, weeding and fertilizing. Workers walk each row 16 times over the course of a growing season.
It’s far too much for one couple and the Youngs have relied on a host of volunteers from the start.
Last Friday, Cam Covington, Peter Fortune and T.J. Hoder helped Young reel out the 80,000 feet of bird netting.
“Seeing it get to this point is magnificent,” said Covington, at the wheel of the tractor that carried the reels. “To see a flock of birds pour in and wipe it all out.” He finished the sentence with a look of disgust.
For Young and his volunteers, the avian invasion has been a disheartening setback, one they’ve gone to great lengths to reverse.
At first, Young tried posting replica owls on fence posts to scare off birds. A few neighborhood dogs stopped to growl at the feaux-owls, but the birds kept coming. So Young bought a computer program that blasted the sounds of distressed and dying birds across the vineyard at random intervals. The deterrent was more effective, but it drove Young and Patricia crazy.
“It was just gross,” Young said.
This year, Young turned to the propane-powered air cannons, which fired at regular intervals from the early morning into late afternoon.
Out flew the birds, replaced by phone calls from disgruntled neighbors.
Some berated the Youngs for the noise. One caller, who declined to leave a name, called them “filthy bastards.”
Two days after the cannons were installed, a Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputy visited the vineyard to follow up on a noise complaint. The deputy determined the cannons weren’t violating county code. The Kitsap County Department of Community Development also received a complaint, but said the cannons were an allowed agricultural use.
To Young, the complaints are symptomatic of a conflict between north-enders who want a working landscape and those “whiners” who’d like farms to be seen but not heard.
“Everyone wants a farm up here, but they don’t want the activity that comes with it,” Young said.
John Hogan, a resident of nearby Hansville Road reported the cannon noise to the county. Hogan said he had no problem with having farms in the area, but the noise from the air cannons — which he likened to a high-powered rifle being discharged — was over the top.
Though the county came down on his side, Young decided to order up bird netting as a way of resolving the issue.
If the net succeeds, Hansville Hill Vineyard should reap a solid harvest of about four tons. A long-lasting summer has laden the vines with sweet grape clusters.
While the cost of the bird net was high, it’s a sustainable solution and Young is looking to the future.
“Once we get it all producing, this will be our retirement,” he said.