Home Again, Home Again

Day 82 of 365

We are home, and I am with my Boudica again! Just now, I was outside freshening the duck water, and Boudica came up to me with a big smile on her face. She, apparently, did a great job with the sitter, but she’s happy we’re home.

I experienced a lot of mixed emotions being home. I was happy to be here, but things had changed more than I thought they would in just three days. Mainly, I missed the departure of my tiny neighbor’s second and last brood of babies. I had a bad feeling I was going to miss it, and I did.

I took this picture the day we left. There were four babies, and there was simply no more room in that nest. I hate that I missed them go. Last time, I was able to witness it. Thankfully, I got this picture right near the end of things. I had read you have to be careful getting too close to the nest right when they are about to fly. You can scare them into trying too soon and cause problems.

I approached the nest so tentatively and pretty soon realized this little gang of wide-mouthed baby Eastern Phoebes was only going to watch me with mild interest–and I do mean mild. Yes, I am thankful for this photograph.

Interestingly, when we got home Ruby was out with the flock!

I could not believe this, but there she was, acting like a normal chicken. Kate, who has officially dumped her baby was also out with the flock, as was Bianca. Everyone was behaving so well and so orderly like. How could these be my chickens?

But it didn’t take long for the quirkiness to reappear. As I was out saying hello to my babies, who grew so much I almost cried when I saw them, I watched as, one by one, all of my quirky chickens flew over the fence and came my direction.

At first, Ron was like, “Well, you spoil those chickens too much.”

But, later, he said, “I’m sure there’s just a certain comfort level with mom being home. It can’t be easy on them to be cared for by a stranger.” I agree with this wholeheartedly. I am amazed at how differently my chickens behave when people they do not know come around.

Our little vacation was the first one we have taken since becoming homesteaders. There’s just too much work to leave to other people for very long, but we did it thanks to a fantastic farm sitter. I am so glad to be home, but I don’t want to wait so long before we do it again.

And I am hoping with all of my might that, tomorrow morning, I hear “fee-bee, fee-bee” outside of our bedroom window.

Redemption

Day 74 of 365

I have to follow my rule of writing every day, but to those of you who have come to know me through this blog, I need to ask a favor. I have to keep these posts short the next three days because I have to complete the next Farmer-ish print annual by Monday. If I start going on and on about something and you happen to read it, please leave a comment and tell me to get to work on that print annual.

So I will be very brief tonight and then get to work on the print annual at least a little bit more tonight. It’s pretty close and so pretty. I can’t even begin to tell you how good the pieces are. I wish I could write as well as so many people in this book!

Today, I took a picture of my tiny neighbors’ babies, and it shows more than balls of fluff! I took the picture, burned my feet on our wicked hot deck in the process, and then showed Ron my picture.

“Who’s the best wildlife photographer in the world now?” I asked him.

I definitely got some side eye.

But he also had to smile. He loves me extra today. He is overwhelmed with work outside and asked me if I would be able to put up some broccoli and cauliflower in an emergency. It was going bad in the heat. I had to make three batches of raspberry jam from the berries we got yesterday, so I had a bit on my plate too; still, I agreed, but then the broccoli and cauliflower kept coming and coming. This picture was early on in the game.

He kept thanking me and thanking me. It’s hard to keep the garden alive in this heat, and it’s a full-time job for him right now. I am thankful for him right back.

Raspberries, Blueberries, Heat Waves, and Eastern Phoebes

Day 73 of 365

Have I mentioned that it’s hot? Oh my goodness, I am a heat wimp. So is my son. We have a row of raspberry bushes that have been reasonably generous this year. We’ve eaten and shared quite a few raspberries, and I was able to make two batches of raspberry jam from our own berries. Still, if I want raspberry jam to send to my family in Texas and Oklahoma this Christmas, I have to go pick at local farms.

These are lovely berries from our own bushes.

This morning, we made the drive north to a berry farm we visit every year for extra raspberries. You can buy the raspberries already picked, an option my son would prefer, but it’s so much cheaper to pick your own. So we do. But this year was tough.

It was so hot out there, even though we made it to the farm by late morning. I swear, even my sweat was sweating. We all wore hats, and I brought water; however, my son and I struggled. My farmer husband was stoic–as he is. I, however, am not very stoic, and my son, well, let’s just say he believes wholeheartedly in making his feelings known on any situation. He ended up sitting in the car turning on the air conditioner periodically. I didn’t blame him. It was really too hot for heat wimps like us to be out there.

To make matters worse, the berries were rough. These were drought berries. It was heartbreaking to see them. They were small and felt almost dry on the bushes. They will be just fine for jam, but the picking took extra long because of the smallness of the berries.

As I picked and thought about what tough work berry picking is, I thought about farm workers, many of whom are migrant workers, who do this hard work day in and day out–bent over, picking berries in the heat, moving so quickly, certainly at ten times the rate in which I was picking today. How thankful we should all be to them. It’s terrible that, for the most part, our society isn’t thankful to them at all.

Years ago, I developed the philosophy that anyone who eats meat should have to be a part of the process of processing an animal for food at least one time in their lives in order to learn the reality of it. At the very least, there would be far less waste. But, today, it occurred to me that it would likely be very beneficial for people to also get to experience picking fruit in the summer heat. Wouldn’t it be great if we were all more grateful to farm workers?

Well, I could go on, but I should probably get off of my soap box for tonight.

When we got home, we had more of our own berries to pick, and our wonderful neighbor said we could pick a couple of quarts from her berries too. This is an extra treat. Our berries are fairly large, but she waters hers more frequently, and those raspberries are so big you can wear them on your finger tips!

After that, I decided I should take a look at our blueberries, and I made a heartbreaking discovery–the birds have eaten almost every single blueberry we had! I just about cried. I don’t think we are going to get a single blueberry this year, and we have four fairly large bushes. .

So we are going to certainly have to head back to the farm to pick. Last year, we used a net, but birds kept getting stuck in the net. Thankfully, we were able to save all of them, but we were away from home more this year and were hesitant to put up the net. We didn’t want to accidentally cause the death of a bird because we didn’t want to share our berries. Still, next year, we have to figure out something. We are always willing to share with nature, but the birds have gone too far this year. Little blueberry thieves.

On the bright side, Ron took my mind off of the blueberry situation by showing me a little melon growing in the garden. It’s magnificent, and it looks like more will be coming soon. I guess one perk of heat waves in the Maine summers is that we can finally grow melons in the garden.

I wrapped up the day with a little wildlife photography that led to a panic of sorts. It started with the notion that I was going to take a picture of the baby Eastern Phoebes on our deck. I talked to a neighbor who has a set of Phoebes who come back to a nest by her garage every year. She said she can get right up there and look in the nest, and everything is always fine. Well, this made me bold. I was determined to get a picture of those baby birds tonight.

So I found the step ladder and took this picture of the babies. Only the babies were sleeping, I guess, because they just look like little lumps of fluff and fuzz. I showed my picture to Ron, and he said, “Well, you’re the best wildlife photographer in the world!” I told him I didn’t need his sarcasm.

Still, I like the picture because you can really see what the nest is made of, and just as I thought, you can see the Boudica fur. I have found many nests on the ground over the years, and they are all lined with Great Pyrenees fur. I mean, why would you not use fur so soft and luxurious? I also like that you can see the leaves and moss and tiny twigs. And, maybe, I will try again tomorrow to get a picture of the babies while they are awake.

We’ll see though because, after I took the picture, I started to panic that I had somehow scared off the parents. When I went out tonight to see if I could see one of the parents back at the nest, there was nothing but the sleeping balls of fluff. I started researching and researching online. It’s very difficult to find specific information on Eastern Phoebes on the web. This is so frustrating to me, but I did find out in my researching that, unless it’s cold, most mama birds do not sleep on the nest with their babies. This was a surprise to me because chickens sleep with their babies every night.

So I learned something new and am hopeful I didn’t scare off the parents. I am determined to convince Ron that we need to set up a web cam on the nest next year. I mean, that would be fantastic? Of course, I imagine I would never get any work done because I would just want to sit and watch the Eastern Phoebes.

An Update on My Tiny Neighbors

Day 24 of 365

Well, I broke my promise to keep my distance from my tiny new neighbors’ home. I didn’t get too close, but I got a little closer than I had promised. To be fair, I was worried one of the babies was dead. To be honest, I mostly knew it wasn’t and knew I should mind my own business even if it was. But I am curious. I am also a worrier. I had to take a closer look.

I just kind of looked with my phone though. I stayed about 10 feet away and just held up my phone and zoomed the camera all the way in. I got a picture. I also saw the baby that I thought was dead shake their little head. Not dead, of course. Just very chill babies. This is my first experience having a bird nest so close watching wild babies. I thought the babies would be rowdier, like baby chickens. Not at all. They are so quiet and chill. They only cheep every now and then. Maybe they are really content. They do have two parents working to meet their needs 24/7. Ron said maybe they have to be quiet for danger reasons. That makes sense too.

Either way, I learned today that the babies are not dead. I also learned they are fuzzy and adorable, like ugly adorable, and now I am in love with these babies, just like I am in love with their parents.

I seem to be learning something every day from these tiny neighbors. I looked and could not find a book on Eastern Phoebes. I feel like these amazing birds should have a whole book devoted to them. How can there not be such a thing?

So I am learning everything I can from the internet. The Audubon Guide to North American Birds has been helpful but is not nearly as detailed as I would like. But here are a few tidbits I have learned so far.

  1. Eastern Phoebes mate for life! How magnificent is that? Apparently, sometimes, the male will have two mates though, but he stays with those for life.
  2. Their nests are made of mud, moss, leaves, grass, and animal hair. I am certain the inside of that nest must include Boudica fur. Every nest I have ever found on the ground around here included Great Pyrenees fur.
  3. Both parents feed the babies, and they stay very busy. I have seen so many mouthfuls of bugs headed to that nest. The babies are thankful. I am also thankful. We live in the Maine woods. There are plenty of bugs to spare.
  4. They will often raise two broods each summer. I am hope, hope, hope, hoping they use the same nest. Apparently, they often do. I believe these birds know they are very welcome here. My husband and I have our tea and coffee on the deck every morning and just watch them in action. So far, they seem totally fine with us being there, but I hope they know I love them.
  5. The migrate as far south as Mexico. I have never been to Mexico but would love to go. I wish my neighbors could tell me about Mexico. I wish they could tell me about their amazing journey. Can’t you just imagine?
  6. And, of course, the babies are amazingly chill. I will have to keep reading to see if I can find out more about this. I can’t see for sure how many babies are in the nest, but I definitely caught two little fuzzy heads in my picture.
  7. The babies will start to leave the nest in about 16 days. I think we are at day 3 or 4 right now.

That’s all I have for now. I can’t wait to learn more, and I will keep you posted on the babies. It’s fascinating to me to have these wild birds and babies to observe while Ruby is also raising her baby chicks. It’s a great vibe. We have some children coming to our little farmstead to visit in the coming weeks, and I can’t wait to share all of this with them.

Also, how devastated am I going to be when my tiny neighbors leave? There will be many tears.

A Tiny New Neighbor

Day 14 of 365

A few weeks ago, we noticed that some tiny birds were building a magnificently-messy nest by our back deck. At first, we weren’t sure what kind of birds had moved in right next door (well, above the window and on the drain pipe). They were very busy building the nest–at least I thought there were two birds building the nest. It turns out, our new neighbors are Eastern Phoebes, and I learned that the female builds the nest all by herself. I swear, she was working so hard it surely seemed like there were two of her.

This reminds me of some of my mom friends. Maybe all of my mom friends.

Eastern Phoebe by Patrice Bouchard

We were worried at first about disturbing the nest. We love our giant deck and always spend a lot of time out there in the summer. We were willing to stay away for the sake of the birds, but I learned that Eastern Phoebes are quite people tolerant. This made me happier than I can say–and not just because we were going to be able to keep using our deck. This meant I was going to get to watch some beautiful birds this summer. I was so excited thinking about what I might learn from our tiny new neighbor.

Though Eastern Phoebes are supposedly very people tolerant, I am still careful not to get too close. I can see that the female is sitting on her eggs, just like Ruby in tiny form. Eastern Phoebes have long tails, so every day, I see her up there and just see her little head and her little tail. Sometimes, when I am busying around on the deck, I see her watching me. This makes my day.

You can see her up there, right? If you look closely, you an see here little head, and, of course, her magnificent tail sticks out from the back of the nest.

Last weekend was the first time I saw her watching me. I was on the deck a long time planting seeds into flower pots, and I had been looking and looking at the nest but couldn’t see her. I was actually worried she had moved, that maybe we had disturbed her too much. But after a bit, I was sure I felt someone watching me. I looked over my shoulder, and there she was, up in her nest, with her head leaned over, peeking out at me.

I fell in love with her right then.

I told her I would never get too close to bother her. I am assuming she was thinking, “I have concerns about our neighbors.”

But I have been very good. I have kept my distance, but I take peeks at her several times a day. She’s almost always there. I read tonight her eggs will hatch in 16 days. I don’t know for sure when she started, but I think there may be babies very soon. I also read Phoebes will usually hatch two broods. Lucky me!

I also read tonight that the male defends his nesting territory with his singing, especially at dawn. Fantastically, I hear him every morning. He sings “fee-bee, fee-bee, fee-bee” every single morning at dawn. His favorite tree seems to be the one right outside our bedroom window.

This morning, the windows were open, and I first heard the little male Phoebe about 5:30 or so. It was just a little bit of heaven for me. I didn’t have to get up yet and start the day, so I just lay there with the morning light coming in the window and “fee-bee, fee-bee, fee-bee” filling the air. Ron can’t hear the Phoebe. His little call is too high pitched for Ron’s ears, so as I lay there,, I just treasured this little miracle of morning that, in the moment, felt like it was just for me.

***

Ruby is doing fairly well, but I worry about her color. Her comb is so pale. She’s eating and drinking some, but I am thankful the baby chicks will be hatching fairly soon. I had to pull her off of her nest this morning to make her take a short break. She didn’t stay away very long at all. She’s very serious about this. But I did sneak away a few eggs for a quick candling. The Salmon Faverolle eggs were all developing beautifully. I could see the shapes of the babies coming. Sadly, I am not sure that Juliet’s egg is developing. The shell is dark, and I was hurrying, which means I am not sure. Still, I don’t think it’s hopeful for our little cowbird’s egg. I’ll try to take another peek in a few days to confirm.

Everybody Loves Cello

Day 6 of 365

Today was a big day off of our little farm. That’s why I am so late to write. My cello mom work started early this morning and didn’t end until long after dark.

photo credit: Janderson Tulio, Unsplash

Our son is a cellist, and he’s a pretty serious cellist. Today, my husband drove us to Augusta, and we listened to one of the most beautiful orchestra concerts I think I have ever heard. There was the drive, the rehearsal, the making of food to eat in the car, the drive home. It’s a long day at the end of a long season of 10 weeks of driving, eating in the car, sitting in the car during three-hour rehearsals.

But, truly, it’s worth it and then some. If you have never heard The Sicilienne, the third movement of Faure’s Pelleas et Melisande, give it a listen here. It’s magnificent! And I just heard it played live by an orchestra—and my kiddo played in the orchestra. I have no words for the joy this brought me.

Thinking of the cello reminds me to tell you a story about the Eastern Phoebes who have made a nest on our deck. It was just a treat watching them build that nest over the last few weeks. Those birds worked so hard. Thankfully, I learned Eastern Phoebes tolerate people very well. How fortunate am I? I mean, I won’t get too close. I promised the female Phoebe I would be respectful of her space (I have a whole other story to tell about that later), but I am still in for some joy this summer. I read they might raise two broods! I am so glad these fantastic birds chose our deck. 

Last night, when my son was practicing his cello, it started to rain, and I had to step outside onto the deck to bring in some aloe plants I had potted during the day. When I stepped outside, I could hear my son’s cello so loudly and clearly from outside the window, and then I realized the Eastern Phoebe nest was right above the window to our son’s music room. 

For a moment, I worried about the nest being so close to that loud cello music, but then it occurred to me that the Phoebes would have surely been aware of the loud cello music while building their nest. Our son plays cello six days a week for about two hours each day. Maybe, just maybe, Eastern Phoebes like cello music, too. 

“At least that A string,” Ron said when I told him what I noticed. “Yeah, at least that A string,” I thought.  

We have a duck who injured her leg on the ice one winter several years ago. She had to live in the house for nearly eight weeks while she recovered. During that time, we discovered she loved the cello. When our son would start to practice, she would come from wherever she was in the house and park herself right under the cello. She would stay there for the whole cello practice! It was amazing!

I did some research and learned that birds process music in the same part of their brains as we do. How cool is that?   

***

Oh, and I have a quick Ruby update. She’s still on the eggs and took no break today. I gave her some leftover homemade waffles as a treat. She ate them out of my hand very aggressively and then gave me a good hard peck on the hand for good measure. Oh, Ruby! 

I will candle her eggs on Wednesday.