Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Middle of the Roaders

As you may recall, we recently found one nest of four killdeer eggs on the edge of our driveway and marked it so visitors would drive around the nest. I thought it was exceedingly silly for a mama bird to build her nest on the drive's edge.

We knew that another pair of killdeer were nesting somewhere toward the end of the driveway. Ed was planning to cut the grass today and we both were concerned that he might run over the nest if this mama was as irresponsible as the last. So, we have been watching carefully to see if we could find the nest. It's a bit like playing hide-and-seek. As soon as the mama sees us, she starts running down the drive and once we are far from her nest, she takes off, circling back to her nest. The eggs/nest are perfectly camoflaged so even if we are looking closely, we may not see it. We looked and looked, along both edges of the drive. Then we saw the mama move from the center of the drive and we zeroed in on her nest. Sure enough, she built it smack in the center of our driveway. What was she thinking!

See it?

Here's an upclose view. See it now?

So we put four buckets around the nest and hope that people coming and going from Farm Dover will drive around them.

I hope these silly birds appreciate how hard we are working to help them birth their babies.

Monday, April 29, 2013

On Paris Time

Ed and I are just back from 12 days in France and Spain, a super fun trip. The only clock at Farm Dover says 8:30 p.m., but my body and brain tells me it is 2:30 in the morning.  Give us a couple of days to upack, cut the grass, and readjust to Eastern Daylight Time, and I'll share the highlights with you.

Looking out to Montmartre through the clock at the Musee d'Orsay (originally a railway station). 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

From Peace to Chaos

I spent yesterday morning hiking with two friends, exploring a beautiful woods, spectacular waterwalls, a restored mill. The wildflowers are what stole the show. Like a carpet they covered the woodland floor and then crept up onto large boulders and stone walls. The only sounds we heard were of spring songbirds, falling water, and friends laughing. We came away from our hike refreshed and relaxed. Such a peace filled morning.

And then as I was headed home, I switched on NPR, only to hear about the tragic bombings in Boston. My heart sank. My peaceful world shattered.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Up Close

Jack came out today with his good camera and took some shots of the mama killdeer. She is so cute, with her stripes. Look closely and you can see her eggs.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Look Closely

The killdeer are back at Farm Dover. We've been seeing and hearing them for the last month or so. They are pretty "shore" birds that run along the drive in spurts, stopping every few feet to look around and see if they have startled up any insect prey. The little bird is named onomatopoeically as it cries "kill-deer" in a loud voice as it circles overhead.

photo from www.allabout birds.org
We've been watching to see where they appear from to see if we can find their nest and mark it so that we don't step on it in the field. Ed was out this morning dandelion hunting when he found the nest, right on the side of our gravel driveway! He has placed 5-gallon buckets on the drive to remind us (and our visitors) to circle around so as to not disturb the nest.

Eggs in our driveway!
The mama bird has been sitting on the nest all day, but when I walked out there just a minute ago to take her photo, she very quietly got up and walked away. Even when I clearly saw where she was sitting, it was hard to pick out the nest. It is right on the gravel, with only a few twigs around it.

Usually, when one gets close to the nest, the mama or papa bird will hold its wing in a position that looks like it is injured. Then it flaps around on the ground emitting a distress call as it moves away from the nest. The predator then thinks it has an easy prey and heads toward the injured bird and away from the nest. Once the predator is led far from the nest, the killdeer suddenly "heals" and flies away.

Photo from kats-alter-ego.tumblr.com

Pretty clever, I think. The things a parent will do to protect its young. The eggs should hatch in 24-28 days. Can't wait to see a bunch of baby killdeer following their parents around.

photo from birding.about.com

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Have you seen a mouse with a woffelly nose?

Sister Kathy came for a visit last week bearing gifts. She handed me a bag with a tag that read: Hope these are the only mice to be found at Farm Dover (or something like that). Inside were two adorable cast iron mice that have already made numerous appearances on our cheese board. Cute. Yes?

Flash forward to this afternoon when I decided it was high time to take the straw off my strawberry plants. I was scooping up big handfuls of straw when all of sudden I realized that underneath my last handful was a soft bed of fur with some little critters moving around in it. Turns out it was a nest with six little mice (almost big enough to be on their own, with no sign of mama mouse). Cute. Yes?

I called to Ed who came down with a bucket and shovel and suggested that he could simply smash them! Afterall, we have traps set in the garage, basement, and cottage and have had our share of mice-eaten car wires. "No. No," I screamed.  "I'll take them away from the house and get them relocated in a nice bunch of hay in the back field." Which I did, and they seemed happy enough, although I'm sure their mama is distraught.

I think I have fond thoughts for mice because of three memories from my childhood:
1) When I was in first grade I had imaginary mice that lived in my pockets. Their names were Eencie and Meencie. They were great company.
2) My Uncle Bud gave me a little stuffed mouse that seemed to have real fur and held a kernal of corn in it's paws. I loved it dearly.
3) My favorite book of poems was "The World of Christopher Robin" and in Missing, Christopher Robin lost his dear little brown mouse. I felt so bad for him.
Has anybody seen my mouse?
I opened his box for half a minute,

Just to make sure he was really in it,
And while I was looking, he jumped outside!
I tried to catch him, I tried, I tried....
I think he's somewhere about the house.
Has anyone seen my mouse?
Uncle John, have you seen my mouse?

Just a small sort of mouse, a dear little brown one,

He came from the country, he wasn't a town one,
So he'll feel all lonely in a London street;
Why, what could he possibly find to eat?
He must be somewhere. I'll ask Aunt Rose:
Have you seen a mouse with a woffelly nose?
He's just got out...
Hasn't anybody seen my mouse?    

-- A. A. Milne


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ends of the Earth

Seems like some of our best travels are to places that few people visit, and, perhaps, that few people would ever want to visit.

I'm sure that lots of very nice people have ventured to the Big Bend National Park in far southwest Texas, but I've never known anyone who has. For some reason, Ed had this park on his list of places he wanted to visit and I was only too happy to tag along. The problem is that it is very hard to get to. That didn't stop us. Last month, we boarded a Southwest Air flight to Austin, rented a car, spent the night in Austin, drove 8 hours, arrived at the tiny town of Marathon, spent the night, drove another hour, arrived at the entrance to the park, drove another hour to the Chisos Mountain Lodge, the only accommodations in the entire park. We had arrived.

It was like no other place I have been before: a weird mixture of dessert and high mountains; bone dry. Nothing lush to be seen. Beautiful in its own right.

As arid as it was, occasionally we would stumble upon the most beautiful wildflowers. Texas State Flower Blue Bonnets growing along the roadside...

...or a prickly pear cacti in bloom...

or a Huisache tree adorned with yellow pompoms....

The hiking is spectacular; offering beautiful views around ever bend; unusual flora and fawna at every turn. Oaks, pinyons, and junipers mix with desert scrub and grasslands. Birds, lizards and deer dart out the corner of my eye.

One afternoon, we drove across to the far western edge of the park, the one that borders Mexico, separated only by the mighty Rio Grande. Except it wasn't mighty. If I took a running start, I could leap across it and end up in Estados Unidos Mexicano. But with my luck I'd land in prison for a year. I didn't leap.

This tiny stream is all that flowed between the two countries and it was the only free flowing water we saw the entire time in the park. Occasionally, we would drive over a bridge, but below would only be parched earth, usually with a nearby sign warning of flash flooding. Drinking water was equally scarce. No water fountains to be found; no place to fill up a Nalgene; one must request a glass of water in the Lodge restaurant.  Makes me thirsty just to think about it.

One of the reasons that I think Ed was so keen on visiting the park is that it is known as a refuge for hundreds of species of birds. A birder's paradise! More than 450 bird species spotted! We were sure that every bush, every tree, every dessert meadow would be teeming with exotic birds and we were willing to travel a very long distance to add them to our life lists. Except the birds were nowhere to be found, or almost nowhere. We woke early and hiked late to find them. Slowly, we added birds to our list. It took great patience, but we would occasionally see a roadrunner, or a Mexican Jay, or an acorn woodpecker. But mostly, we were a bit disappointed in the number of bird species that we saw.

The last afternoon we were in the park we drove to the far southeastern edge, to the campgrounds at the Rio Grande Village, near the Boquilas Canyon. Back in the 1940s, a series of irrigation canals were built to bring water to the nearby land, making farming possible. As a result, a number of cottonwood and sycamore trees grew in the relatively lush valley. Water + trees = birds!

As soon as we starting hiking we started seeing the most wonderful birds: colima warblers, tufted titmice, vermilion flycatchers, ladder-backed woodpeckers, roadrunners, cassins kingbirds, chipping sparrows, golden-fronted woodpeckers, yellow warblers, western wood peewees, and white-winged doves. No sooner would we see one interesting bird, another would appear. We spent the entire afternoon working our way further and further down the valley – thrilled every time we saw a new bird. If this is what every birdwatcher could experience every time they went watching, there would be a lot more birdwatchers in the world. It was a great way to end our time in the park -- worth every mile we travelled.

So, that's my report of our time in the park. We also had a wonderful time in Austin and St. Antonio, but that's a whole other blog post. Best saved for another day.

And then there were four...


Maggie's bees are all abuzz this morning. The fruit trees in our orchard are starting to bud out, finally. And the bees are going crazy, feasting on the sweet nectar. Surely spring honey can't be far behind!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Race

Ed and I have been racing against Mother Nature's clock as we worked all week to clean up the tree line along the drive. Tree by tree we've moved down the line, exorcizing the invasive osage orange trees, leaving the wild cherries, hickories, hackberries, cedars and walnuts. We clip the thorny, brambled branches and then Ed goes at the trunks with his chain saw. Together we stack the logs and kindling sticks and drag the branches to a brush pile.

We made it about half way down the drive before we found the first 2013 bird's nest, which was our clear signal that our tree clearning days were over until next fall.

Ed saw the nest early in the week, but assumed it was left-over from last season. He pointed it out to me yesterday and then quickly realized that a mama robin was sitting in it. We came back today to do some clean up and the mama bird was taking a break from her nest, so I snapped a photo.

Mama robins nornally lay three to five eggs, one each day. So this mama may not be through laying her eggs.

I'm not sure I'll get another chance to take a photo of the eggs. It seems that until all the eggs are laid, she limits the time she spends sitting on the nest. This is to keep the older eggs cool so that the entire clutch develops at roughly the same time. But once all the eggs are laid, the mama rarely leaves the nest for more than five or 10 minutes at a time.

Baby robins should be here in about two weeks. Can't wait to have some new avian residents at Farm Dover.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Planting Lilacs

When we lived on Rainbow Drive, my friend Jeanne would show up every spring with a huge bouquet of lilacs. They filled my kitchen with the undeniable sweet scent of spring. I knew that when we moved to Farm Dover, I wanted lilac bushes surrounding our home.

I've come to learn that lilacs are often planted near a farmhouse door for good luck, and because they offered beauty in the midst of challenge and hard work. Yep.

I've also read that many families planted lilacs in the late 1860s in memory of Abraham Lincoln, as eulogized in Walt Whitman's When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd. And because they are long-lived plants, you occasionally see a large bush near where a 19th-century farmhouse once stood.

Last spring, we planted four lilac bushes. Only two survived the deer and drought. But yesterday, my neighbor, Sandy, brought me a lilac shoot to transplant. I'll plant my gift near the two surviving bushes and hope that 100 years from now whomever is living in our old farmhouse will smell the blossoms and think of those who have gone before. (I'm also hoping that they grow and flower while I'm still around to enjoy them!)


In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash’d palings, 

Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green, 

With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love,  

With every leaf a miracle......and from this bush in the door-yard,  

With delicate-color’d blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green, 

 A sprig, with its flower, I break.

-- excerpt from When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd by Walt Whitman, 1865,