Thursday, May 31, 2007


We are currently overrun with mockingbirds. They were dropping from the sky on Sunday while I was spreading mulch (actually dropping from their nest in the crabapple tree), watching me weed while perched on a tomato cage in the garden, treating us to serenades at all hours of the day. The picture is of the one of the three babies that fledged on Sunday. It didn’t survive. Don’t think I’m morbid for photographing a recently deceased bird. I just like to get a really close look at them. I noticed they have attractive black whiskers and wonder what they are for. I was surprised by the size of the fledglings.

We have the Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) living among us and it is one of my favorite birds. For the past three years it was a single male. Never any babies. Well apparently this spring a lady mocker showed up and I’ve also seen other adult mockingbirds flitting about flashing their white wing bars. I wonder how many mockingbirds we can support here? Mockingbirds establish a breeding territory in the spring, different from a territory used in the fall and winter that is centered around a food source. My mockingbird’s food territory for the last three years has been our crabapple trees which usually retain their fruit well through the winter. Many mornings in late winter I could lay in bed and watch out the window as this single mockingbird valiantly defended his food source from small bands of Blue jays to crows. Mockingbirds also depend on Pokeweed, poison ivy, Virginia Creeper, and Hollies.

Some mockingbirds mate for life and remain together at all times, others separate in winter to establish their separate feeding territories.
Mockingbirds can incorporate from 50 to 200 sounds or calls in their repertoire, gaining more experience with age. While usually I appreciate and look forward to this serenade, out mockingbird has decided that night time is the right time for his particular repertoire and sings from 2 to 4 a.m. approximately 8 feet from our bedroom window. This has happened for the last several nights. This is not uncommon behavior for male mockingbirds, particularly unattached males in and around the full moon. Which doesn’t happen until tonight. Because I could not sleep I decided to see how many bits and pieces of bird call I could identify of his lineup. I could make out a robin, a chickadee, a cardinal, a blue jay, a flicker, a red tail hawk, and sadly, what sounded for all the world like a car alarm. I say hello to him every time he is around with the hopes that one day, my hello will make it into his song list.

Did you know that there was such a large market for caged mockingbirds in the late 18th and early 19th centuries that they were completely extirpated around large cities such as Philadelphia and St. Louis? I guess that is the era which the lullaby comes from, about buying a mockingbird and what would happen if it didn't sing.
Click here to listen to a sound recording of a mockingbird call.

Speaking of birds, I watched the documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill last night. I loved it. Check it out if you can.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Somebody thinks I'm special!

Sandy, at garden path, has tagged me with a Thinking Blogger award. I'm so tickled. Seriously. I read your blogs every day and gain inspiration and motivation from what so many of you are doing, but I never consider that I may be inspiring somebody else. That makes me feel good. Sandy is a prolific poster and each and every post has an amazing photo and frequently a wonderful haiku. Her blog always makes me feel peaceful and calm. And when she posts recipes, they are awesome! I still make her pozole recipe a few times a month.

So I am charged with the impossible task of passing it forward to five blogs that I think are awesome and inspirational and just all around cool. Just so you know, I think all the blogs I link to and read are great and I've learned so much from so many people that it is difficult to narrow it down to five. And I think several of the blogs I'm mentioning have already been given Thinking Blogger awards, but whatever. I don't think its a bad thing to have more than one and to know that you inspire many.

So, here are the people that motivate and inspire me:

Liz at Pocket Farm. Liz was one of the first blogs I read and has inspired me to do many things. She definitely has motivated me to think about the food I eat and where it comes from. And has inspired me to try making things that I find intimidating (for whatever silly reason) like yogurt and most recently cheese (totally making mozarella this weekend).

Kim at Black Swamp Girl. Kim is a gardener extraordinaire and has inspired me to take a more critical look at garden design. I have a tendency to buy things I like and then find a place for them. Lately, thanks to inspiration from her blog, I have been walking past impluse purchases and really thinking more about what would work best in a spot.

Shannon at Not So Virtual Homestead. My gosh, just reading this blog makes me feel tired. Two people, two full time jobs, a baby, a market stand, many, many chickens, goats, crafts, a huge garden, baking, canning.....just crazy. But always motivating. After reading Shannon's posts, my thought is always "I need to get my butt in gear". And she is a wealth of knowledge and answers questions whenever asked.

Rurality is another one of the blogs that I have read since the beginning. I love the mix of wildflowers and wildlife and chickens and gardening and just about every facet of the piece of ground on which she lives. I always learn something and I think much more about what is creeping about my yard at night after the introduction of her Gamecam.
Judith at Weeds between the cracks. Sadly, Judith has decided to stop blogging at least for the time being and has been on hiatus since early December. I've been inspired by Judith in gardening, attracting and respecting wildlife, having a sense of humor in the garden (see Judith's gnome doors), crocheting (even though I've never progressed beyond a simple hat and scarf) even possibly to keep bees one day. I will miss Judith's writing and humor and hope to see her back this fall.

So, if you've been tagged, and haven't been tagged before, and feel like it, and are still blogging, make of list of five people that inspire and motivate you!

Here is the link to the origin of the meme:the thinking blogger
Thanks again Sandy!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Goodbye, Tree

Hard to tell from the photo, but this is a big tree. A silver maple that was probably planted when our house was built in 1900. Two other silver maples along our road have been taken down recently(one by our asshole neighbor for no good reason) and another by an even further neighbor because theirs was rotting as well. One of the local families said that the trees had been planted on birthdays and special occasions, and the two recently taken down were planted for two elderly sisters in the Heisey Family when they were born in the early 1900s. They lived together in a little house up until about 10 years ago when they had to go into a home. I think both are passed away now. I don't know if there was a special occasion behind the planting of my tree.

It has done a superb job in it's life of shading the house from the hot summer sun and has (during our brief time here) been home to many birds and squirrels.

But the tree is dying. Although it fully leafed out this spring, a large portion of it's insides are rotting, including the roots on the street side. If it was anywhere else on the property, I would let it go. But since it is near the street and sort of close to the house, I'm worried that it could come down and hurt someone. Our road is dark and a car would never see it if it came down in a storm and was across the road. A tree man came yesterday to give us the final diagnosis (and cost of taking it down).

I'm a little shocked at how angry I am about losing this tree. At first I was determined to get a second opinion. There must be something we can do to save this tree. But I know there isn't. I try to visualize what our yard will look like now without this tree. It won't be the same. Yes it will be easier to pull out of the driveway without this tree in the way and no I will not miss the torrent of silver maple helicopters that come raining down just about the time I have mulch put down, making everything look messy. I will miss this tree terribly though. And the worst part is that even if I plant another tree in it's place I know that I will not live long enough to ever see a tree that big there again. I don't like being forced to confront my own mortality by a tree.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Animal Wednesday

No sex in this one, I swear.

This is my front door. Every year a purple finch builds her nest in this wreath. Earlier this year another bird also decided that this would be a good location for a nest. A short but very bitter turf war ensued and somebody's eggs were splattered all over the front porch. Mrs. Purple Finch prevailed. And she was very good about staying in the nest when I opened the door to take the dogs out at night. Only once did she leave the nest and fly into the living room. After being batted down a few times by a thankfully clawless Roy and being gently placed back into her nest atop her eggs, she went on to brood six (I think) little baby purple finches.
And in June when I replace this wreath with the geranium one and have to scrape bird dirt off of it and my door..... I won't mind. I love watching a nest full of baby birds.

And this is a picture I've been meaning to take for awhile. This is Humphrey the camel. I drive past her every day to and from work. Seeing a camel on the way to work in South Central PA puts me in a good mood. Particularly when Humphrey is taking a dust bath. How often do you get to see a camel rolling joyously around on her back in a big dust cloud? Humphrey and her companions are participants in a live nativity scene every Christmas. The rest of the year they just hang out in their pasture. I love the donkey. Some days they chase each other. Quite a site to see a donkey, a goat, two cows (the other one is a red and white spotted cow not pictured) and a camel running after each other.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Chooks in the garden.

I was going to write about worm-sex, but I don't want to get myself wedged into a blogging niche that might seem unsavory. It was really cool though. Saturday night we had a long sustained rain....not too heavy, but just right. I went out with a flashlight to lock the chickens in for the night and there were worms everywhere! In the garden, there were worms extending over a foot from their holes and then meeting up with other worms similarly stretched. And they were touching and where they were touching was all gooey and gross and it was happening ALL OVER MY GARDEN! I totally watched for like 20 minutes.

Click here to read more about the howzits and whatzits of earthworm reproduction.

Saturday I went to the Landis Valley Museum for the Herb and Garden Faire. A lot of my favorite vendors weren't there, but I still came home with some very cool plants. I bought Borage, several tomatoes (Olivette, Roughwood {a stable cross of Yellow Brandywine and San Marzano}, and Black Ruffles {a cross of Black Krim and Zapotec Pink Pleated}), a few peppers (Hinkelhatz {or chicken heart} pepper, a Relleno, and Amish pimiento) to go with my already burgeoning collection of tomatoes and peppers. I always buy way too many cause there are so many interesting varieties. I can't help myself.

But the thing I was most excited about buying at the Herb and Garden Faire was........RAMPS! I've never seen them being sold before! I've never even tried one but I snatched one up. It is apparently an Appalachian thing, as last year when I went to West Virginia, I saw many signs for Ramp Festivals. At first I thought it had something to do with the Interstate, but a ramp is actually a sort of onion, sort of garlic type thing that is wildly popular in the southern mountain states and mostly harvested from the wild. Allium tricoccum is really a wild leek that grows in wooded areas of higher elevations (supposedly 3,000 ft). I'm not at a high elevation, but I have a wooded area with a low pH (something else they like) and am willing to give it a try. How fun!

And in other news, I should have listened to Liz in the comments about the asparagus catastrophe. Asparagus does have deep roots. And I should have waited to see how much of what my husband tilled would come back before running and planting more asparagus. Because about 75% of what was tilled came back. But only after I planted 25 new crowns. So now I have 60 asparagus plants. And I am the only one in this house that eats it. That is a lot of asparagus.

Friday, May 11, 2007

adult content

Warning! Adult Content! Of the geeky bio kind.
The past week has been extremely busy with lots of long days of field work. But occasionally you are rewarded by sights you have never seen.
Like snake sex. I've never seen snakes having sex. I've seen turtles 'occupied' twice which was pretty exciting, because you don't see turtles that often anymore, let alone two turtle in the act of making more turtles. But I've never seen snakes engage in the act of procreation. These are the Common Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon). The larger snake is the female and the smaller one is the male. These were in shrubs in between a pond and a stream. The property owner proudly exclaimed that on a good day you can count 25 at one time. Huh.

See the three entwined tails in the middle of the picture? You might have to click on the photo to enlarge. These three were in a shrub overhanging the water all day. Seriously. All day....from at least 9 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon. This is serious business apparently. We were doing aquatic insect surveys in the stream right next to this bush in the morning. While I was writing down some data, I noticed the bush shaking. When I looked closer, I saw the snakes and laughed. How funny. What is that saying? When the tartarian honeysuckles a' rockin........ We tried not to bother them too much.

Here they are again all wrapped up together.
This was the pool area of the stream right where the three snakes were. As you can see, they have plenty to eat. The interesting thing was that all of this was going on less than 100 feet from a major road that sees 90,000 cars a day. And finally a shot of Moby Dick, the last remaining carp in the big pond. He must be a lonely guy. Just him and a bunch of snakes.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

On dead and dying things

Last week there was a smell upstairs. It started out lightly. You'd be walking through the bedroom and catch a faint whiff of something fairly unpleasant. But upon sniffing in earnest to discern from whence it came, the scent would elude you. Towards the end of the week the smell was stronger. You could smell it all the time but couldn't pinpoint it. I had just spring cleaned upstairs two weeks before, so I knew everything was fairly clean, but still inspected corners, emptied wastecans, checked the guest room to look for food left behind by the neices. Nothing. Upon getting out of the shower on Sunday and being met with a particularly vibrant new strain of the stench, I decided that it must be something dead, either in the walls or in the ceiling. There is nothing you can do about something dead in the ceiling or walls. I hoped that later this week it would get very hot so whatever it was would mummify quickly and stop eminating stink. So there I am staring into the mirror brushing, flossing, contemplating the tragedy of some animal dying alone within the walls of my house. Did it suffer? Was it a long drawn out death? Did it's family miss it? Did it live a full life? So very sad. And I look up and see four FOUR! gray hairs sticking out of the top of my head. I will be 37 this year and I have probably been lucky thus far to have not had a single gray hair. But there they were. All shiny and a different texture and OLD LOOKING! And it is totally not a good time to be confronted by your own mortality and irreversible aging when you are thinking about the solitary and probably lingering death of some unknown creature in your walls. I was depressed for the rest of the day.

Later that night I was getting ready for bed. The smell was terrible but it was too cold to open the windows. I saw the cat laying on my pillow and I wondered. I got down on the floor and flipped up the bed skirt. There under my husbands side of the bed was a partially decomposed vole, splayed neatly out on his back. I wondered what his placement meant. At least I knew that it wasn't the awful ending I had imagined. I scooped him up (the cat lazily looking up to see that I discovered his prize, wondering what took so long) and put him in the garage trashcan. He was just fur and bones. The stink went with him.

On a totally unrelated note, check out my Redbud in all it's spring glory.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Some tasty reading

I 've linked to a great article by Barbara Kingsolver on eating local. She has a new book out called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life in which she chronicles a year (A YEAR!) of eating local. I can't wait to read it. They interviewed her on NPR on Sunday about the book and she talked about how they couldn't decide when to start the actual year. So they picked asparagus as the starting point. They had asparagus already and it's emergence seemed a good point to begin. I teared up a little, hearing this the day after the untimely demise of my own asparagus. I spent two hours last evening preparing a new asparagus bed, neatly aligned with the ten remaining plants. And then made sure my husband saw where it was and swore not to till it under. Dinner for me last night was 8 spears of asparagus (from the remaining plants) and some fresh eggs.

So read! And be inspired! And plant things!