Saturday, April 25, 2015

Little Brown Bird with Incredible Talents

If you have been reading this blog for any period of time, you know that Ed and I get a kick out of bird watching around Farm Dover. We gotten pretty good about being able to identify a couple of dozen birds that frequent our farm. We can usually identify a bird if it holds still and we can focus our binoculars on it for a moment or two. But that doesn't happen very often. Instead, we rely on hearing their song, watching their flight pattern, observing how they hold their tail or peck about for food, or seeing bright flashes of color as they flit from branch to branch.

There is a whole category of birds that we usually just throw up our hands and call them "little brown birds." These are the ones that refuse to hold still for more than a nanosecond. They are tiny and wary. We more often hear them than see them. They love tangles of vegetation and vines; brush piles are their playgrounds.  They move in jerky hops. I think most are wrens and sparrows of one sort or another. All fit the description of a little brown bird. Always before, I just dismissed them as a not very special bird. But not anymore....


The other day, Ed said he wanted to show me something. He walked quietly up to a tangle of an overgrown wild rose bush, surrounded by honeysuckle. He carefully moved back a thorny branch and invited me to take a look deep inside the dark space.

What I saw was a marvel. A bird nest unlike any I had ever seen. Unlike a robin's nest, it was fully doomed with a round opening on one side. Bits of bark strips, dried grasses, dead leaves, pine needles, straw and bits of small downy fluffs formed the underside. The top was fashioned from bright green moss, like a thatched roof you might see in storybook set in a medieval English countryside.

It was the nest of a Carolina wren and it was breathtaking in its construction; adorable in its execution. My estimation of this little brown bird soared.

The mama wren flew out when she heard us approach and took up station in a nearby bush where she set about letting us know in no uncertain terms that she wanted us gone. Now. I took a quick photo and moved away, assuring her I would not harm her or her eggs/chicks.

Unfortunately, the photo just doesn't do the nest justice. You can't really make out the shape, but here is a closeup of the nest. If you look closely, you can make out the front-door hole in the top-center of the photo; the green moss roof you can see on the left side; and the bottom of the nest is made up of coarser twigs.  The entire nest is snugly tucked in among thorny rose canes. I wish you could see it up close and in real life.

Once I got back home, I pulled out a book called America's Other Audubon which features a collection of reproduced engraved illustration that were initially produced in the late 1800s by a young woman named Genevieve Jones. After she had produced five drawings of her intended 130 species of birds that nested in Ohio she died of typhoid fever. Her family was paralyzed by grief and shock. In mourning their child, they vowed to complete the project that she had started and spent the rest of their lives finding nests/eggs, drawing them accurately and then hand coloring the engraved prints. Her father spent his entire life savings to publish the two-volume book.

The book that I have now was compiled and published three years ago by Joy Kiser and includes the entire collection of the Jones family engravings. Here's the illustration for the Carolina wren.

The nest we found was even more amazing than this illustration -- the green roof is proof in my mind that this little brown bird has incredible talents.

I never know what I might see around our farm. Almost anytime I take the time to look, I see something amazing. Albert Einstein once said that if you look deep into nature, you will understand everything better. I think he is right.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Before the sun sets on Earth Day

A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world
is not given by his fathers,
but borrowed from his children. 
– John James Audubon

Every day feels a bit like Earth Day to me around Farm Dover. We spend most of our working days trying to be good stewards to our 40 acres – planting trees, tending to our garden, foraging for salad fixings, installing bluebird and owl houses.... 

Today was no exception. We started our day by dropping off our recycling at the new Shelby County Recycling Center. We separate and recycle all our glass, plastic, aluminum, metal, cardboard, and newspaper. We compost all our kitchen scraps, which leaves very little "garbage" which we also drop off at the new center. They charge for "garbage." This month cost us 90 cents. 

Afterward, we stopped by the Kentucky Utilities office on Main Street in Shelbyville. They were giving away red bud seedlings. We left with six; two of which we dropped off at our neighbors. Once we got home, we planted the four seedlings – two down by the creek and the other two in the tree line along the drive. 

After lunch Ed cut a walking path for me along the creek while I finished weed whipping out by the front gate. Ed walked out to help me finish and then showed me two nests that he found while walking out to meet me at the entrance – one I think was a robin's nest, newly build, but still eggless; and the other a wren's nest that was the coolest thing in that it had a roof made of green moss and a tiny round front door. The photo I took just doesn't do it justice, so I'll try again tomorrow. 

We finished the afternoon chores by harvesting a few asparagus and some sage and oregano, placing a cover over our strawberries as it is forecast to frost tonight, and changing the water in the birdbaths. 

It is an honor and privilege for us to tend to this small piece of earth. It is Ed's and my intention to leave it in good shape for our children's generation, as it is from them that we have borrowed it. 

Friday, April 17, 2015


Last week I was all about daffodils; this week it's viburnum, specifically the ones just outside our front door. My affection has turned from jonquils to juddi (Viburnum x juddi). 

Twenty-one chest-high bushes line our drive out front. The pinky-white snowball blossoms emit the loveliest fragrance. I can smell them from inside the house when the screen door is open. I don't think the blooms will last long, and when they go, so too might my affections – on to the next flower that blooms at Farm Dover.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A host of golden daffodils

Remember when I wrote about discovering all the kinds of oak trees that Ed and I found growing around our farm? Well, the same thing has happened with this spring's daffodils. I never paid much attention to the variety of narcissus that pop up every spring.

Silly me. I had no idea that there are between 40 and 200 different daffodil species, subspecies or varieties of species and more than 25,000 registered cultivars.

When I saw that more rain was expected for today, I went out yesterday and picked

Most were ones that the kids helped me plant even before the house was built. Five years ago, I ordered 200 bulbs from White Flower Farm, but didn't think to save the order form, so I don't really know the names of what I have.

Once back in my kitchen, I separated my bouquet by type.

And then I put them into vases and lined them up, according to height. This pleased me greatly.

Then I checked the White Flower Farm website and tried to figure out the names of each flower. I suspect that some of the ones I purchased five years ago are no longer listed. So I'm not 100 percent sure that I've named them properly. But here's my best guesses...

Narcissus Delnashaugh (double daffodil)
Narcissus English Style (double daffodil)
Narcissus Acropolis (double daffodil)
Narcissus Minnow (tazetta daffodil)
Minature White Tete-a-Tete
Narcissus British Gamble (trumpet daffodil)
Narcissus Sir Winston Churchill (double daffodil)

I'm hoping my gardening friends – I'm talking to you: Kathy and Lynn – will set me straight if I've got these wrongly identified.

In the meantime, the perfume from these bouquets is filling the room and I'm loving it.


Another interesting tidbit that I learned in my research:

Narcissus is the Latin or botanical name for all daffodils. So daffodil is the common name for all members of the genus Narcissus. And to confuse you further...

In some parts of the country any daffodil is called a jonquil. The term jonquil actually refers to one specific type of daffodil, the Narcissus jonquilla. Jonquils tend to have clusters of several flowers, instead of just one bloom, and have a strong scent. (See Sir Winston Churchill above.)

And that, my friends, is your botanical lesson for the day. You are dismissed!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Impossible Things before Breakfast

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast”
– Lewis Carroll

I dare anyone to do what we did this morning before breakfast and be in a bad mood. It's an impossible thing.

When just barely awake – and not quite functioning properly – Ed invited me out for a morning of birdwatching around Farm Dover. The day was perfect. Not too hot; not too cold. A gentle breeze; warm sun on our faces. Most of the trees have yet to leaf out, making birds easier to spot.

For every bird we saw, we heard dozens of others. Sitting still and quiet, we spotted one or more bluebirds, eastern towhees, brown thrashers, common yellowthroats, red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, wood thrushes, goldfinches, tufted titmouse, quail, doves, blue jays, turkey vultures, mockingbirds, robins, starlings, cowbirds, tree swallows, woodcock, and numerous litle brown sparrows and finches that wouldn't sit still long enough to identity.

I don't have a camera with a large enough lens to capture our sightings for you. But here's a sampling of what we saw.

Eastern towhee from
Bluebird from
Common Yellowthroat from
Wood thrush from
The one bird I was able to photograph was a mama woodcock. We stumbled upon her nest last week while walking through our front field. She flushed from her nest and I was able to snap a photo of her spotted eggs.

From behind the front fence, I've been checking on her every day this week and I think she has gotten used to me looking for her. Today, I was able to get a bit closer and take a photo of her, happily tending to her eggs.  Look closely. Do you see her?

After our morning out and about the farm, we headed in for breakfast. We were both in good moods – impossible not to be.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Giving a hoot!

Don't count your owls before they are delivered...
– Albus Dumbledore

For Christmas this year Nate made us an owl house and two bluebird houses. We were thrilled. Unfortunately, the gift did not include installing the owl house at least 10 feet up in a tree. It took Ed and me two ladders, three trips to the hardware store, and a bit of cursing, but we did it. 

Now we are just waiting to hear the mysterious nighttime trill of a breeding pair of Eastern Screech Owls and hope that they choose our comfy new nesting box to call home. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Like Losing an Old Friend

One of the things that Ed and I love about living out in the country is exploring the back roads of Shelby County. Often on our way to or from somewhere, we'll take a road just to see where it goes and what we might see on it. I'm always on the lookout for old barns. The timeless architecture of these often-decrepit structures never fails to catch my eye and capture my imagination. I like to think about all the history and hard labor that these barns have witnessed over the years.

My favorite old barn is one that we pass every time we head into Shelbyville. It sits at the edge of Aiken Road, just before Highway 53, across from Wild Carrot Farm. It stands empty most of the year, but is filled with golden tobacco hanging from the rafters in the fall. I've written about it before and we stopped to take some photos last September.

I should clarify and say that this barn was my favorite. Here's what we saw when we came up over the hill today: a very sad sight indeed.

The almost constant rain of the past two days and strong wind gusts were evidently just too much for it. Like a very old and tired person, it just collapsed – falling in on itself.  A mass of old posts, beams, wood siding, and tin roofing came crashing down. The only thing that appeared to be inside the barn was a large – and neatly arranged – stack of ancient tobacco sticks.

Next to the barn was a old tree, snapped in two.

My heart ached to see this old barn reduced to a pile of rubble. I feel like I've lost a friend. I'll miss it terribly.