Today in the exceptionally clear air I happened to snap this:

House Finches Courting (c) Katrien Vander Straeten, 2008

These are House Finches. The red-headed one is the male and he’s feeding the female. This, I just read, is courting behavior. There were at least two males and two females around, possibly competing while a Hairy Woodpecker and a Nuthatch looked on. (Here’s a great page comparing the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers – I think I’ll get it straight from now on).

Bird feeder: House Finches courting (c) Katrien Vander Straeten, 2008

Bird feeder: House Finches courting (c) Katrien Vander Straeten, 2008

We’re still unpacking boxes, and not the kind that can go down into the basement without being opened. We’re still considering bids for several major appliance changes, like the new boiler, insulation, and a good wood stove. We’ve taken our first stabs at composting and are battling swarms of small, black flies. We’ve assembled the sofa. We’ve had a dinner party in our new dining room: all of us around the table, good friends, fantastic food off the grill and several bottles of white wine and many more topics of conversation. And toasting.

Es gut.

And I’ve taken time to sit in our living room and stare out at the bird feeders, and to take pictures. I know it’s not quite what real birders do, but it’s the only way I know I will learn to recognize the most important species.

And here are some of them:

1 At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten 2 dscf2748.jpg

3 At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

4 At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

5 At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

6 At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

7 At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

8At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

9 At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

10. At the birdfeeder (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

As for identification, I’m going to need some help with some of them:

(1) Adult male House Finch (2) same Finch and adult male yellow variant (?)

(3) American Crow

(4) Tufted Titmouse

(5) Juvenile Common Grackle (?)

(6) Adult female Red Cardinal

(7) Adult female American Goldfinch

(8) Adult male American Goldfinch

(9) (?)

(10) Woodpecker (Downy, right?) and Titmouse

The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America (c) David Allen Sibley, Knopf

I use Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. I am sorta obligated to, because Mr. David Allen Sibley lives in the town over, but I like the book a lot: beautiful illustrations, little maps indicating the ranges, some information on habits and on voice.

Photograph of small farm on river bend

We’re moving ourselves and the rest of our stuff this weekend. Then we need to unpack, figure out which boiler and water heater to buy and who should install it. Then insulation. Then select the wood stove (any suggestions? the choice on the market is overwhelming, but we don’t want to go pellets).

And that’s it for the big things in the house. Some will unfortunately have to wait till next year: the solar water heater, for instance.

Then, finally, we’ll be turning our attention to the garden. Those.7 acres – isn’t it lovely, that though you don’t have a whole acre really, you still get to say point-seven-acres?

As I look at all that outdoor space, my big vision is looking too, over my shoulder. And I keep telling myself: keep the dream big, but take manageable steps. First things first: get the soil ready for next year.

As for the edible garden. Where and how to clear the stones and the brush and the saplings and the poison ivy for next season’s veggie and fruit garden? Where to get compost and mulch? Should we top it all up with some topsoil? What to fence in? Should we bring down some of the larger, more lovely trees to “make” sunlight?

As for the front yard. Due to the huge new leach field, most of it won’t be used for edible  or deep-rooted plants, so what to grow there then?

And what to grow in the “relaxation” and “entertainment” garden round back?

Dreaming big…

Choo-Chee the fox (c) Galina Kolev, 2008

(Choo-Chee the Fox by Galina Kolev, used with kind permission)

At the new house we’ll be seeing lots of foxes. I’m looking for a good book about them. It could be a fairytale or a picture story or a more scientific book (not too advanced). As long as it doesn’t reinforce the old stereotype of the wily fox who gets outwitted and has to go without food for another day.

Any suggestions?

Amie and I had just read a book about snails when lo and behold! One showed up on our doorstep, literally.

Snail June 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

That’s our doorstep.

Amie was enthralled. We talked about how it carries its house on its back, leaves a trail of mucus, can crawl up vertical surfaces and upside down (try explaining “suction” to an almost-three-year-old!). We checked out the movable and fully retractable tentacles: the two long ones on top ending in the eyes, and the two smaller, lower ones being the snail’s nose. Amie found that very funny and told me I was being silly.

We’ve always taught her not to approach or touch wild animals, but I allowed her to gently touch the snail’s shell. “If you want to touch a wild animal, always ask Mama first!” I guess we’ll have to specify that rule at some point.

Amie and snail, June 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie patting snail, June 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Have you seen the small CNN documentary video about the Dervaes Urban Homesteaders (of Path to Freedom fame)?

If you’ve followed the Urban Homesteaders, it won’t show you much that is new, except for that toilet/sin (approx. 2/3 into the video)!

Gaiam’s sink/toilet

The lid of the toilet water tank has been converted into a small sink. You wash your hands with new water and it drains into the water tank. It’s perfect!

Theirs seems to be a Gaiam system (picture above), but for the do-it-yourselfers I found a quick hack here. A more elaborate system that stores the drainwater under the usual sink and diverts it to the toilet can be found here and here.

No need to flush perfectly good drinking water down the toilet!

four little robin at homesteadm june 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

The 4 robins have pretty much outgrown their nest, but I haven’t seen them fly out yet.

Little woodpecker at homestead, june 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

There are two little woodpeckers like these. Neither has a red spot on the head, so I think they’re both adult females. They’re so small they are probably Downy (not Hairy) Woodpeckers. But the Hairy Woodpecker is probably around as well: I’ve heard its very rapid, almost smooth rapping sound, like a phone buzzing almost. Very unlike the slow and much louder tok-tok-tok of the big pileated woodpecker.

Bird (?) at Homestead, June 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

This now is a little bully. Can anyone tell me what kind of bird it is? A juvenile Common Grackle? It has that large tail… He chases away the cardinals and even fought the two Downy Woodpeckers to eat at his heart’s content.

Bird in Birdfeeder at RSL, May 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

And lastly this little guy I misidentified earlier. Our neighbor pointed him/her out as a Orchard Oriole, not (as I thought) Yellow-throated Vireo or possibly a Yellow Warbler.

We also spotted a Carolina Wren with a huge green caterpillar in it beak.

I started a bird list in the sidebar. Watch it grow!