Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Birding Bonus

I love weekend (and holiday!) mornings, when I can take as much time as I like to sit at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and watching the birds outside. The winter months bring lots of birds to our feeders, of course: sparrows, finches, cardinals, woodpeckers, bluejays and the like. But it's the pond that tends to draw the more unique species.

Take yesterday, for instance. A white, duck-like bird was swimming about, & diving down for 30 seconds or more at a time. A quick perusal of the Audobon guide led me to identify it as a Common Merganser, but I didn't have much time to spend watching it. This morning, there he was again, as Chris and I were doing the leisurely coffee-sipping thing. "I don't think it's a Merganser," said Chris, citing its dark beak (Merganser beaks are orange). Out came the bird books and binoculars. Just as we'd get a good look at him, the little guy would dive underwater, and emerge elsewhere. We eventually trained the telescope on him (oddly enough, we use it much more for bird-watching than star-gazing!), and identified the trademark that gives the Common Goldeneye its name. This is a new addition to our Bird List! Meanwhile, as all this was unfolding, not one, but two Great Blue Herons paid us a visit as well. Revelling in our good fortune, we watched the pond for a while and then the Goldeneye suddenly took off, flying over the fields. The herons left a bit later.

Lately we've also been seeing a lot of the Eastern Bluebird, especially along the path leading back to the pasture. And not long ago, we welcomed another addition to our Bird List: the Common Grackle. They are very common indeed; I'm surprised we hadn't spotted one before. I wasn't moved to post about them at the time, but might as well acknowledge the Common Grackle here as part of our Christmas Birding Bonus!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Connecting the (birding) dots this week

On Sunday, I topped up our bird feeders as usual. Yesterday I made a mental note that the feeder closer to the pond was nearly empty again. And I thought it odd that the feeders hanging outside the kitchen windows were still nearly full. I didn't spend much time dwelling on it, and went on about my business.

This morning at breakfast, Chris pointed to a tree outside and said, "There's that bird again! I saw it the other day and couldn't figure out what it was." We started rifling through our bird books, eventually identifying a Sharp-shinned Hawk (a new sighting, added to our Bird List!).

Reading on, I suddenly understood why the bird feeders had gone quiet this week:
  • The Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: The Sharp-shin preys on small birds such as sparrows and warblers...
  • eNature: The smallest and most numerous of the accipiters, the Sharp-shinned Hawk feeds mainly on birds, which it catches in sudden and swift attacks.
  • National Audobon Society Field Guide to the Mid-Atlantic States: Expert at capturing small birds, often at feeders.
Keeping my fingers crossed for our "regulars," that the Sharp-shin gets bored and moves on!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Get rid of catalog clutter!

I have a feeling more people watch Bill Moyers Journal than read this blog, but I was so impressed by an interview that aired last night, I feel compelled to put in a plug for Moyers interviewed Dan Katz, the Environmental Program Director of the Overbook Foundation. Overbook joined with the Kendeda Fund and the Merck Family Fund to create, an easy, free service that allows you to "opt out" of unsolicited catalogs, reducing the number of catalogs in your mailbox and lightening your footprint on the environment.

We receive a lot of catalogs, and at this time of year we are postively inundated. Once upon a time I used to enjoy receiving these, but that was before internet shopping made it easy to browse and buy. Now all those catalogs are just house clutter and a waste of natural resources. The site offers a couple of interesting facts:

  • Over eight million tons of trees are consumed each year in the production of paper catalogs.
  • The production and disposal of direct mail alone consumes more energy than three million cars.
In the television interview, Katz recommended viewers, "take your catalogues, rip off the back page, recycle these, the big parts that you don't want, and you stack up the pages here that have your name and customer number on it. You go to the website, and you sign up. ... it would just take you a few minutes to opt out of the catalogues that you don't want to get."

It can take 10 weeks for an "opt out" request to take effect, but it's still a fantastic idea. I registered 5 catalogs we received yesterday, and will add more as they fill up our mailbox.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I promise to be kind to my berries

The strawberries were 2007's biggest gardening surprise. We planted both strawberries and raspberries in 2006, and honestly thought they'd been decimated by deer over the winter. Then suddenly one day, strawberries were everywhere!

The problem was, these plants had been sorely neglected. The raspberry plants were obscured by weeds, and not yielding much fruit. The strawberry plants were also in heavy competition with weeds. And yet, these hardy souls had sprouted runners that were threatening to take over the planet. Having decided that 2008 is our year to get serious about home-grown produce, I knew I had some work to do.

This weekend I set about preparing the berry patch for great things in 2008. I began by weeding with a vengeance, starting on Saturday morning with the waist-high weeds (no, I am not exaggerating). Sunday morning was spent clearing smaller weeds from the strawberries, and weeds of all sizes from the raspberries. The next step will be to turn a large patch of strawberry plants into neat rows. This will mean sacrificing some plants, but will result in a more manageable bed, fewer plants competing for nutrients and, I hope, a nice yield.

Now, I need to sit down and write 100 times:
  1. I will be kind to my berries
  2. I will be kind to my berries
  3. I will be kind to my berries ....

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Hello there ...

I'm not a big fan of spiders, but isn't this one pretty? This is a Black & Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia). She had spun a beautiful web on a bush in our front garden. A particularly thick strand of the web is quite visible in the photo, but if you look very closely you can see other wispy strands above and to the left. The background is the wall of our house, several feet behind her.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Autumn Ruminations

Today was a perfect autumn day. The morning was cool and comfortable, and the afternoon temperature was in the 70s. It was a great day to work outside.

In the morning, Chris and I ventured out to the pasture. I was assigned the monotonous but strangely satisfying task of picking up sticks. There are quite a lot of bits and pieces left over after bush-hogging. As I raked and stacked sticks, Chris expounded on two of his favorite topics:
  1. Which trees need to come down (after his collarbone heals, of course)
  2. Which model of tractor he wants to buy
I have learned after 2o+ years that Chris makes decisions by talking about the subject. My role in all this is to listen and offer the occasional opinion, but mostly let him ruminate. The purpose of the discussion is not to make a decision right then. It's to make a decision at some point. So, having taken down umpteen trees this year, we still don't have a completely clear view from house to pasture. This will change, once it is determined which trees are dead or otherwise unsightly. Second, we have a behemoth of a tractor affectionately called "Ned the Bull," who is old, unpredictable, and far from agile. It is time for Ned to retire; the question is, what sort of young whippersnapper will take his place? I think Chris has worked through enough options to know it will be four-wheel-drive with a front-end loader. But how many horsepower? Will it have a belly mower or a bush-hog? Can you attach a post-hole digger? My oh my, the permutations and combinations are endless. I had no idea. So I listen, and nod politely, and look forward to welcoming a new tractor in the coming weeks or months.

In the afternoon I moved to the front garden and went after the weeds that have piled up around the bushes. This was a solitary task, and gave me time to do some of my own ruminating. It's time I had a project of my own on our property, and I'm going to start a vegetable garden. I've been inspired by our strawberry patch that refused to die despite a year of neglect, and by the "eating locally" movement in general. And today I read this great post, "Lettuce Give Thanks," by A Mark on my Wall, where she is trying to eat mostly food that comes from within 100 miles of her Chicago home.

So I've chosen the spot for my veggie garden, and I've requested a book from the library that came highly recommended by some of my bookworm friends: John Seymour's The Self-Sufficient Gardener. I'll do some prep work as I can during the autumn. Over the winter I plan to read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which I know will be motivating. And, I'll pore over seed catalogs and other how-to books and internet sites. With any kind of luck, we'll have fresh produce in the summer !!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Moving Day!

We had high hopes for our property when we moved in three years ago. Yesterday one of our dreams became a reality when our two horses relocated to the pasture.

Gracie is a 4-year-old chestnut mare; Bobby is a 5-year-old bay gelding and former racehorse. They've been living at a local stable while we cleared and fenced the pasture.

They've not spent much time together before, since in a stable environment the mares and geldings are typically separated. But they have taken to each other nicely. In fact, Bobby has been following Gracie around all day.

If I stand by the pond I have a clear view of the pasture. What a beautiful sight!

What's wrong with this feeder?

Back in July, in a burst of birding enthusiasm, I decided we needed more feeders. I wanted to bring more birds to the windows outside our kitchen, and make it such that a feeder could be seen from any place at the kitchen table. Also, I'd noticed the cardinals didn't particularly care for the small perches on the tube feeders, preferring to pick up leftover bits that fell onto the grass below.

I bought two different feeders that I thought might be more to their liking: a tube with a circular perch and seed tray, and "The Lodge," with ample perching space.

Initially I placed the two new feeders side by side. "The Lodge" was an instant hit with the cardinals. The other feeder was completely ignored by all birds, even when the rest of the feeders were empty. Meanwhile, on the other side of the kitchen, our traditional tube feeder was getting lots of visitors. So I swapped the tube feeder and the "circular perch" feeder, but the birds kept visiting only the lodge and the tube feeder. After a while, I remembered that the seed I had used at first was a little old, so I tried fresh seed. This hasn't had any noticeable effect either. This poor, unpopular feeder sees only an occasional visitor. I know this might be part of the problem:

However, I don't think that explains everything ... birds frequented the tube feeder in that location (whenever it was cat-free, that is!)

Why don't the birds like the circular perch feeder?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A week of ups and downs for our backyard wildlife

A couple months ago I wrote about one of our ducks' strange meanderings. A few weeks ago this very same duck started spending a lot of her time in the duck house. She didn't even come out for food. It turned out she was sitting on two eggs. While all of our ducks are quite enthusiastic when it comes to mating, and pretty good at producing eggs, the eggs tended to be left lying wherever they were laid: the front garden bushes, deep in the pond, along the bank, you name it. Up to now, none of the ducks seemed to have the faintest idea about nesting.

Well, this mama duck managed to master the nesting thing and on Monday, hatched two fuzzy black ducklings. It was exciting, but we were apprehensive at the same time. Would she know what to do next? Would they get enough food? Would they be warm enough?

We watched them carefully on Monday and Tuesday, bringing water and some ground duck pellets out to the duck house each day. On Wednesday, she ventured forth with her brood. A bit of drama ensued. Mama duck took the little ones out for a swim, and then proceeded to take them to one of her favorite spots for sitting: the pond's overflow grate. Her spatial relationship skills proved even more suspect than her parenting skills, as one of the ducklings fell through the grate! There was much flapping and panicked quacking, which fortunately caught Chris' attention. He realized what had happened, went into the woods behind the pond, crawled through a wet and spidery culvert, retrieved the little fella, and reunited it with mama duck (all this was even more remarkable given that Chris is all trussed up in a contraption designed to heal a broken clavicle ... but that's another story!).

All seemed well from that point. Mama took her little ones out during the day, and retired to the safety of the duck house in the early evening. On Friday night we went out to visit the little ones and enjoyed watching them splash about. But in the middle of the night, we heard a lot of panicked quacking coming from all 8 ducks. This chorus is usually reserved for really scary and threatening situations. In the morning, the ducks were all clustered together on the grate. But the ducklings were gone.

I know the deck is stacked against ducklings born this time of year, since they are unlikely to reach a suitable body weight before the weather gets cold. But they were so cute and fluffy. It's sad.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Birding Meme

Wren over at Wrenaissance Reflections tagged me for this birding meme. OK, here goes!

1. What is the coolest bird you have seen from your home?
Definitely the great blue heron, who visits our pond fairly frequently.

2. If you compose lists of bird species seen, what is your favourite list and why?
The only list I have is one of birds seen on our property, which is right here on this blog!

3. What sparked your interest in birds?
I'd been interested in wildlife for many years. When we were newly married, Chris and I watched just about every wildlife show on PBS. And we loved going to zoos. Then, about 20 years ago we bought our first house, a city rowhouse with a tiny patch of yard. The previous owners had done a nice job with landscaping, and we set out some birdfeeders. We loved the birds that would visit, even though they were classic "city birds" like starlings and pigeons. We've kept bird feeders in every house since.

4. If you could only bird in one place for the rest of your life, where would it be and why?
Not having "birded" anywhere but my own back yard, I don't have a favorite place (yet). I enjoy visiting new places and if I have the chance to see local birds, that's great.

5. Do you have a jinx bird? What is it and why is it jinxed?
Not sure I get this one. That must mean I don't have a jinx bird!

6. Who is your favourite birder and why?
Again, I'm no expert on this subject. But I do like the blogs, 10,000 birds and Monarch's Nature Blog.

7. Do you tell non-birders you are a birder? What do they say to you when they find out?
Well, I have to say it hasn't come up in conversation. And I guess I'm kind of keeping it to myself...

Now, I know I'm supposed to "tag" others with this meme. But I'm relatively new to this blogging community (I spend more time with books, reading, and my litblog). So if you happen to come across this, thanks for visiting and consider yourself tagged!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Fabulous Fungus

Walking near our pond last night, we came across this excellent specimen: a large fungus growing halfway up this tree, just where a bit of bark juts out like a shelf.

Let's take a closer look ... I just thought this was totally cool.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

A Tale of Ten Dollars

We just returned from a week of vacation. This year's destination was the Delaware shore; specifically Bethany Beach. For many, many people in the mid-Atlantic region, it's not summer without a trip to the shore. We are not such people; however, the kids had been clamoring for a beach vacation and we agreed that since our last week-long beach experience was in 1998, it was probably long overdue.

On Saturday we settled into our rented beach house and enjoyed an evening walk in the sand. We returned Sunday morning to sunbathe and play in the waves. After lunch, we drove 30 minutes due south, paid an attendant $10, and parked the car to explore the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland. Boardwalks are an essential element of northern beaches, and despite having lived in this part of the country for over 20 years, we had never experienced it for ourselves. It was crowded, full of horribly overweight people, secondhand smoke, bad restaurants, and block after block of shops selling inappropriate T-shirts and all manner of junk food. A late afternoon thunderstorm brought everyone in off the beach and sent us running back to the car.

Monday morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we drove 30 minutes southeast and doubled back to the coast, paid an attendant $10, and entered Assateague Island National Seashore. Just over the bridge from the visitor center, we came across several of the wild ponies Assateague is famous for. Grazing at the side of the road, undaunted by the line of cars snaking along, striding brazenly across the road for a bite of sweet grass, and posing agreeably for those of us who stopped our cars for the photo-op.

We then continued on to the Dunes Trail, and got out of the car to explore. Piles of dung indicated this, too, was a popular pony hangout. It was an easy walk from the trail to the beach, where we found miles of unspoiled shoreline and only a few people. Gulls and other shorebirds darted in the sand; offshore, pelicans dove for their prey. We gathered shells in the ebbing tide, and returned to the parking lot where two ponies now looked on with curiosity. It was simple, beautiful, and peaceful. We only left because of threatening weather.

The good news was, our $10 gave us access to the park for the entire week! Wednesday we got an early start, and brought a picnic lunch. Once again the shorebirds far outnumbered the people. Many of the people brought their dogs, this being one of the few beaches where dogs are allowed this time of year. By this time we were missing our own sweet dog, and jumped at the chance to greet a couple of labrador puppies. Chris took the opportunity to jog on the beach, and returned with reports of seeing a pony at the edge of the water.

Very few people seemed to have discovered this lovely piece of shoreline. Given the choice between Assateague and the Ocean City boardwalk, I know how I'd prefer to spend $10!
We enjoyed the rest of the week in Bethany Beach, taking advantage of the pool as well as the beach and enjoying dinner at a couple restaurants near Bethany's tiny boardwalk. But for all of us, Assateague was the highlight of the vacation. We're now talking about returning -- this time, with the dog -- on a day trip, perhaps in early autumn.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

What's up, duck?

Last spring we lost several ducks to foxes, but so far this year we have been fortunate and haven't lost a one. Nonetheless, we have a daily roll call. The current "beak count" is eight: 2 pekins, 3 khaki campbells, and 3 cayugas. We may soon be down a cayuga if one keeps up the bizarre behavior demonstrated this week.

The cayugas and one of the khakis have taken to long walks, up our driveway and yes, even up to the end of our street. They've done this before when we've neglected to feed them, but that's not the case this time. They just like sitting in the grass near a house that's under construction. Maybe they're just into the builders. However, this past week Chris was out working in the pasture and could hear a faint quacking kind of sound coming from the housing development that's behind the pasture. He assumed it was the family of geese that have been hanging around our pond, because they travel back and forth between our place and another nearby pond.

Then towards evening Chris heard the same sound, this time out in front of the house. He looked out and watched a cayuga proudly strutting from the main road, down our street, and then down the driveway. The rest of the flock rushed to welcome the prodigal, and there was much quacking all around.

So it appears this crazy duck found her way to the other housing development, possibly by way of our pasture. But then it also appears she returned home via the main road, a 1/2-mile walk with traffic! A day later she disappeared for a full 24 hours, and returned by the same route.

Is someone feeding her? Does she have a secret lover? Or is she just insane? Cayugas, after all, are the same breed as Daffy Duck. We're keeping our eye on her ...

Sunday, July 8, 2007

News Flash! Certified Wildlife Habitat!

The National Wildlife Federation encourages development of backyward wildlife habitats through the Certified Wildlife Habitat program. Sure, this is a clever way to garner donations, but it's also a good way to learn about techniques that can make your garden more welcoming to wildlife. From the NWF website:
"The way we choose to manage the land under our care has had major effects on wildlife habitat. ... By choosing what has now come to be known as 'conventional' landscaping options - ones dominated by lawn, ornamental plants, and dependence on chemicals and supplemental watering - we have disturbed the balance of the ecosystem and banished the wildlife from the land we once shared. The continued conversion of natural areas into such landscapes has resulted in drastic reduction of habitat and the disappearance of many species of wildlife. We can, however, choose to create landscapes that help restore the ecological balance. We can choose to invite the wild plants and animals back into the land and our lives."

Here's what we've done to garden for wildlife and to qualify for certification:
  • Food Sources: Our garden offers seeds, berries, foliage, pollen, and nectar. We also have supplemental seed feeders for birds.
  • Water Sources: We have a spring-fed pond and a stream.
  • Places for Cover: There are wooded areas and thickets, as well as a meadow. We created a brush pile from dead tree branches. The pond area also provides cover, especially through the aquatic plants around the perimeter.
  • Places to Raise Young: The meadow, thickets, wetlands, and pond all fit the bill. We've also built a nesting box for wood ducks.
  • Sustainable Gardening: We use a drip irrigation system on our shrubs and in the orchard, and we have a compost area. We also have been aggressively working to eliminate the invasive multiflora rose (the pasture and orchard used to be completely impassable due to this nasty weed).

Now our patch of land has joined over 70,000 other wildlife-friendly spaces. Yours could, too; get started here.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

First apples

We spent today weeding in the orchard, where there are 18 heirloom apple trees and 4 dwarf cherry trees. 12 apple trees were planted in 2006; the rest, this year. The tallest tree is about 6' high now, and the smallest about 3'.

The weeds have been growing fast & furious and, in some cases, you could barely see the poor little trees. So we cleared 5' circles around the base of each tree and then replaced the wire fences we're using to keep the deer at bay. Much to my surprise, some of the older trees are bearing fruit! Unfortunately we will probably have to pick these before they ripen, because the limbs just aren't strong enough yet. Maybe next year...

Meanwhile Chris has made great progress clearing the area behind the pond, increasing our available land for pasture and preparing for fencing. The view is much more open than when we brought the property (see "Pasture, pond, and other developments" for an earlier photo). The fencing bids are in, the deposit is paid, we are now just at the mercy of the fencing company to schedule the work.

Wildlife sightings

A list of animals we've seen on the property, some more often than others. Well, OK, so far we've only smelled the skunk but that's enough! Links to provide photos, sounds, and more information:

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The plot so far ...

In earlier posts I described progress on our property in 2004, 2005, and 2006. We've made steady progress starting with the yard immediately around the house, then improving the pond area, and creating an orchard and pasture. Here's an annotated version of the plot plan; the box shows the location of the house. I've also posted an aerial photo which matches the plot plan nicely.

The orchard contains mostly 1-year-old apple trees, which will not bear fruit for some time. There's also a strawberry patch. Last year we wrote it off as deer food, but this year it has rebounded to produce nice berries. Of late I've been out there weeding like mad so the berries can thrive even more.

The pasture is in process of being enlarged and will be fenced as soon as we can get someone here to do it.

Spring 2007: wildlife sightings

We've had some interesting encounters with wildlife this spring:
  • Groundhogs - there seems to have been a population explosion. We've seen mature, fat groundhogs scurrying across the driveway, and smaller ones burrowing around in the orchard. They're cute, but I wonder why there are so many?
  • Osprey - We see lots of birds, and until recently the most unusual was a blue heron, who is now a regular visitor to our pond. But one spring day we saw a bird we didn't recognize. Consulting our field guide we determined it was an osprey. Now that was a surprise! It spent most of the day sitting in a tree looking for food in the pond.
  • Fox kits - foxes are commonplace (see: ducks), but coming across fox kits was a real surprise. One day in April, Chris was mowing the pasture, and came across a kit sitting out in the open. He and younger daughter J convinced it to go back into its den, and Chris stopped mowing for the day. The next day we went out to see if all was clear. Looking into the den, we saw two tiny pairs of eyes peeking out at us! Chris decided to mow away from their den. At one point he turned around and both kits were out, sitting next to their den and watching him mow! He later saw their mother at the edge of the pasture. We haven't seen them since and expect she may have moved them to safer quarters.

These three sightings were what ultimately inspired me to start this blog.

Pasture, pond, and other developments

There has been a lot of activity around our property this spring. Chris has enlarged the pasture area by clearning more -- wait for it -- multiflora rose. We have come to realize that all of the lovely, "wooded" areas of our property are covered in multiflora rose that has slowly but surely strangled & killed off many, many trees. Clearing rose and dead trees has been Chris' raison d'etre for several weeks now. The goal is to have a clear view from our house, beyond the pond, into the pasture where we will keep our two horses. Here's a what the view looked like before this project started, in winter & in summer:

Our ducks are still around, but far fewer in number. Their survival skills are not very strong, and many have fallen victim to foxes. As of this writing, the "beak count" stands at 8: 2 pekins, 3 khaki campbells, and 3 cayugas. Canada geese fare much better. Over 3 winters we've come to expect large numbers of geese for Christmas, a couple pairs in the spring, and 8-12 goslings every year. They're wonderful!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

2006: Trees & Bees

In 2006 we decided to clear a southern section of the property to create an orchard. Like most of the property, the area we chose was completely overgrown; It took several days with a tractor to clear the multiflora rose away. We planted about several varieties of heirloom apple trees (about 20 trees in all), and started a berry patch. Deer management has been the greatest challenge. Each tree is enclosed with a wire fence, helping it to get a healthy start.

We were also able to capitalize on a local nursery that was closing, offering its entire inventory at half price. We bought several trees for the back yard, including cherry, ginko biloba, and bald cypress. We were also able to pick up a number of plants for the front garden (rhododendron, holly, roses, etc.)

Chris also started a bee colony, with mixed results. The hive is located in the orchard, ideal for both the bees and the apple trees. While it thrived initially, by autumn it became clear the colony was no longer viable. Was our hive affected by whatever has caused the alarming decline in bee populations across the country?

Saturday, June 2, 2007

2005: Beginnings of a wildlife habitat

In 2005, we decided to introduce more "wildlife" to our property and purchased several baby ducks (pekins, cayugas, and khaki campbells). We kept them captive until they were a few months old, and then decided to release them into the pond. This was easier said than done! We naively thought that after opening their enclosure they would march in a neat parade down to the water. Instead they took off in all different directions, ending up deep in weeds and multiflora rose. One by one we extracted the ducks and carried them down to the pond. They were slightly shocked, but quickly got over it and began to enjoy their new habitat, including a wonderful duck house built by Chris.

Most of the geese that visited over Christmas left in early spring, but a couple pairs stuck around and then one day, there were families! Goslings had arrived! We have also been thrilled by visits from a blue heron, who really enjoys hanging out by the pond.

A plethora of pets

The first fauna to arrive on the scene were domestic. The cast, in order of appearance:

Snowball & Muffin: Two cats adopted from the SPCA in 1999. Snowball was 1 year old at the time, and Muffin was a kitten. Snowball loves to go outdoors and brings "presents" back to us. Muffin is an indoor couch potato.

Midnight: adopted in England in October 2002, after a barn cat at our local stable had kittens. Midnight is pretty aloof but is the best at giving chase when it's time to go to the vet.

Lily: a British Kennel Club registered chocolate lab, joined the family in March 2003 at 8 weeks of age. Boisterous, adorable, and perpetually challenged to keep her weight under control. Lily's name is a nod to our English experience -- short for Lilibet, Queen Elizabeth's childhood nickname.

Pumpkin: the only male in the menagerie, he adopted us in September 2004, just as we were leaving temporary housing to move into our current home. Despite being the last to join the family, he asserts his dominance at all times.
Matching names to pets in the photo is pretty easy, with the exception of Muffin, the grey tabby.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

2004: A lot, and a lot of ideas

When we lived in England, we were fortunate to live in a second home on grounds of the village manor. This setting, and village life in general, shaped our view of how we wanted to live upon our return to the US. We wanted land ... protected views ... a pond ... room for horses ... and ample wildlife.

Finding such a setting in southeastern Pennsylvania, close to several metropolitan areas, was a daunting task, but find it we did. Our 8-acre parcel was the "flag lot" in a small housing development, set back from the rest of the lots with farmland on each side. And it included a large (~1 acre) pond. Perfect! The plot plan gives an idea of the general lay of land.

Pre-construction, the lot was completely overgrown, full of the highly invasive multiflora rose.

Construction began in early 2004, and moving day came in late September. For the rest of the year, our primary exterior activities consisted of:
  • Clearing about 2 acres for pasture at the back of the lot
  • Putting down grass seed in the pasture, and in the front and back yards, which were pretty much a mud pit
  • Hauling away brush and junk that had accumulated on one side of the lot.
December heralded the arrival of hundreds of Canada geese. The spring-fed pond never completely freezes over, creating one of the few places for geese to swim & bathe.