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In 2001 we were able to realize our dream of living in the country. We sold our home in town and bought a 70 acre farm that has a creek running through it. Our house sits back off the road and we own property on the other side of the road as well, so we don't have any neighbors! Now our dogs can bark all they want (until it drives US crazy!)!  We have dark skies for astronomical observation, and our own trails for running sled dogs.

Update 2005 - we sold that place and have moved to Mansfield, MO. on 105 acres. This farm is very much like the other one - the home sits off the road on a hill, there is a creek, we have grassland and timber, and lots of wildlife. 

Our home in the Ozarks

It has been very interesting to observe the diverse wildlife around these farms -  Deer, Barn Swallows, Purple Martins, Bluebirds, Cardinals, Eagles, Raccoons, Beavers,  Owls, Rabbits, Hawks,  Frogs,  Quail, Hummingbirds, Ducks, Geese, Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole, Blue Herons, Coyotes (howling coyotes at night is REALLY neat), and more. There are Armadillo in the area, which really surprised us. Here are some of the animals we have been able to photograph:


One day Jon was out mowing with the Ford 8N and the finish mower. Suddenly, there were literally hundreds of birds dive-bombing him (or so it seemed) on the tractor. It took a few minutes to determine they were Barn swallows. It was so odd, just one day there they were -- hundreds of them. We built a new barn, and had barn swallows build three nests in it the first year. One pair built two nests, and seemed to alternate between them. They raised their young in the nest closest to the door, but each would take turns sitting (or waiting?) in the other nest. 

They raised two clutches, the first ones only had one baby fledge out of four. The second clutch looked like it had all four make it. We assume they were first time parents. If so, they sure learned quick. Late in the Summer, the Barn Swallows in the new barn seemed to have a party. There were probably 20 or 30 other Barn swallows that showed up one morning and all were flying around and perching on the rafters. Of course we are guessing, but it seemed to be like they were telling the others to "Come see our babies! And our barn!"

Before the spring of 2002, when we knew the barn swallows would be returning, we cut a hole above the walk-in door of our metal pole barn, and put in a dog door, horizontally, so that the barn swallows could fly in and out and we wouldn't have to leave the big doors open.  It didn't take any time at all for the birds to learn how to use the little door (of course, we removed the vinyl dog door flap first so there was an unobstructed opening for them). They would approach the small opening at break-neck speed and with perfect maneuvering, speed through and up to their nest!

Big babies wait for Mom.

She's finally here!

After the babies fledged they hung around together on the rafters.  
They would all leave in the morning and return to the barn at night.

Barn Swallow eggs reflected in a mirror. Nest is lined with feathers.


This little frog  just showed up one day, looking out of the hole in the birdhouse on the deck.
 He stayed there all summer. 

We thought we had a water leak in February. It was pretty cold out, around 15 degrees. We took the lid off the water meter to look and see if the dial was moving. There in the water in the hole was a frog! We thought they hibernated for the winter. We have no idea just what he has been existing on.


Purple Martins are fun to watch and are beneficial because they eat large quantities of insects every day.  They do NOT however, eat thousands of mosquitoes every day.  If you are interested in becoming a Martineer, or a Purple Martin landlord, please learn about the proper way to host martins, which involves a lot of human involvement.  Our native Purple Martins are being displaced by imported non-native species, and they need our help to survive.  To simply erect a martin house and forget it (as we did our first season) does the Martins more harm than good in some instances.

We put up three Purple Martin houses the first year--2001--two 12 compartment Heath hexagonal houses and one 12 compartment square Nature House M12-K, hoping to attract some Purple Martins. Right away, we had a few European Starlings move in. Why wouldn't they be Starlings--the first one to arrive was a shiny big black bird, and the books said don't expect to get Martins the first year! We figured, "Oh well, they need somewhere to live, too." One day in early July the District Agent for Illinois Department of Conservation was here talking to us about what to plant in our fields to attract wildlife. He mentioned in passing about our nice colony of Purple Martins. We were almost dumbfounded. We were so sure we wouldn't get Martins that we told ourselves we had Starlings!!  After he left, we got on the Internet and learned a lot more about Purple Martins -- including the fact that the adult males are black, like Starlings, not purple! 

In August our colony left for Brazil.  There were nests in both types of house, but for congregating the birds sure preferred the square house. Unfortunately, we don't know how many young we had the first year (why worry about those Starlings), since we did not do nest checks or keep records of any kind.  

In the summer of 2002 we were much more involved Martin landlords. We worked to keep predators and pests away from the housing, and did regular nest checks and nest replacements.  We had 7 nesting pairs of Martins (with 5 pairs actually laying eggs and raising young) and several other birds that stayed the summer.  There were about 18 birds in our colony, not including the babies.  We had 17 babies successfully fledge, for a total of 35 birds.   

These were our first season birds. Our colony doubled the second year.


        Dad stands guard with baby looking out. This male was our scout for 2002.

At the egg shell feeder.  

Three singers 

Just hatched!

Nestlings wait in the bucket during a nest replacement.

After our colony left at the end of July, 2002, these guys stopped by for a look around in early August.


In 2002 we established the first portion of a bluebird trail on our farm.  We erected 6 bluebird houses in various locations, following the guidelines in the Stokes Bluebird Book.  Houses should be at least 300 feet apart and they should always have predator guards on them.  We had a very successful year with 7 clutches of bluebirds fledged! We will be putting up several additional houses in 2003.

Bluebirds in this house raised 2 clutches of babies.

We took these photos of bluebird nestlings over about a 2 week period.
 You can see how quickly they develop into mature looking birds.


The only species of Hummingbird in our geographical area is the Rubythroated Hummingbird.

In 2001, we put up two Hummingbird feeders, and had a few Hummers show up. They were fairly skittish, but after a while, they got to where they would come up and feed even when we were close by. One of the feeders is hanging on a corner of the deck, and they would come within a few feet of us and feed. Often we would hear something like a bee buzzing, only to find it was one of the Hummingbirds flying inches from our head. 

In 2002 the number of Hummingbirds visiting our feeders increased dramatically.  Sometimes it seemed like the trees around the deck were "alive" with Hummers! We had to buy larger feeders and we started making our own sugar water nectar!

Taking a break.

Hummer and Hibiscus.

Sometimes there was a waiting line at this feeder.
  By late summer, we were using about 6 cups of sugar water a day in all the feeders combined! 

We ended up taking the perches off some of the feeders because the Purple Finches started sitting on them and guzzling the nectar.  Hummingbirds don't need them anyhow.


We don't see them too often, but when you do they are unmistakable. Huge, and like the Barn swallows, seem to enjoy flying just for the fun of it. We live in a valley, and there is usually a breeze. Eagles and hawks literally float in the air above us. At first I thought they were circling something on the ground, but seems like sometimes they just like to fly. This one stays near the top of the hill.


These two Eagles were in a tree down by the creek, and they stayed until we got the camera and took pictures.


We have a pair of Barred Owls in our backyard. One sits on the squirrel feeder, twisting his head around. We watch through the window, and he sees our movement but doesn't seem to mind. The following picture was taken through the window, so is not as clear as some pictures you see in books.



Cardinal and Downy Woodpecker

While you're counting, don't forget the females!

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Mockingbird - he got a little protective of the suet.
We had to hang the suet away from the seed feeders so the other birds could eat.

Tufted Titmouse