As the largest of the Swallow family, Purple Martins are very social birds. Take it from Skimmer the Tree Swallow who explains to Johnny Chuck:
“I like a home by myself, such as I’ve got here, but Twitter loves company. He likes to live in an apartment house with a lot of his own kind. That is why he always looks for one of those houses with a lot of rooms in it, such as Farmer Brown’s boy has put up on the top of that tall pole out in his backyard. He pays for all the trouble Farmer Brown’s boy took to put that house up. If there is anybody who catches more flies and winged insects than Twitter, I don’t know who it is.” The Burgess Bird Book for Children
Here in the Chicagoland area, there is a really fun Cook County Forest Preserve called River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook, IL, which has colony housing that you can go and see. They also have an amazing bird exhibit inside and some larger birds of prey to see outside.
Here is what we found through our gathering search on Sweetvoice:
Sweetvoice: Vesper Sparrow
Size & Shape: Vesper Sparrows are fairly large sparrows.
Color Pattern: Brown overall with crisp streaks.
Behavior: Spends most of its time on the ground.
Something you didn’t know: The Vesper Sparrow responds quickly to changes in habitat.
I found it very encouraging that Vesper Sparrows are resilient and creative birds, “often the first bird species to occupy reclaimed mine sites and abandon old farm fields as they revert to forest.” (allaboutbirds.org) With so much habitat destruction made by humans, it is a wonder that birds can reclaim what was once lost and make a home in places where reforestation can occur. While these little birds spend most of their time on the ground, they are one of the easier sparrows to identify with their song, the time of day they love to sing (twilight), and the fact that when they sing they like to perch high above the grass to let their song be heard.
Until next time, keep singing with Sweetvoice and birding! <3 Kate
We absolutely love hummingbirds. In our area there are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that migrate up for breeding season during Spring and Summer.
Last year, we started trying to attract them a little late, but by the end of Summer and definitely by early Fall, we started to have consistent visits from a pair of hummingbirds. This is how we did it.
First, we went to our local greenhouse and got some red flowers. They were called Salvia Coccinea, or Scarlet Sage wildflowers. They looked perfect for hummingbirds, who love bright colors, because they had long tubular flowers lining the stems. We had the flowers out all summer and eventually they caught the hummingbird’s attention.
We also got a hummingbird feeder and found a recipe for homemade Hummingbird nectar on the Audubon website. I made sure to use the recommended sugar because, as Audubon warns, other sugars can cause problems for the hummingbirds and honey can result in dangerous fungal growth. Hummingbird nectar should be changed out regularly in order to ensure that there isn’t anything growing that will harm the birds.
We love making our own nectar because the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds love it, it’s so easy to make, and it’s cost-effective. First thing this Spring, the Hummingbirds came straight to us!
So, the big question is…. Is a Chimney Swift a swallow? Even Peter thinks that Sooty, the Chimney Swift, is a swallow, but he isn’t! Burgess lets Jenny Wren answers our question, “He hasn’t any one nearer than some sort of second cousins, Boomer the Nighthawk, Whippoorwill, and Hummer the Hummingbird” (Burgess Bird Book, Living Press Edition, p.75). Wow, that’s really interesting!
Cornell Lab’s Allaboutbirds calls the Chimney Swift “a bird best identified by silohette.” With a short body and tail and curved wings, the Chimney Swift flies high above gliding it’s way through the air.
Chimney Swifts use small sticks and saliva to build their nests onto the side of chimneys or in hollow trees. They gather the sticks for their nest while in flight, bathe in flight, and rarely rest. Most birds will perch on a tree branch, the chimney swift uses his tail feathers to hold onto the side of a chimney or tree in order to rest.
Let’s hear a little more about Chimney Swifts from this awesome video from Birds Canada:
I love finding and sharing such wonderful birding resources. Until next time, keep birding! <3 Kate
For our Burgess Bird Coloring & Writing Pages, check here!
Do you remember what it was like when summer drew near as a child? I spent my last weeks of school counting down the days and thinking about the big space of time that would just be mine. No school, few obligations, and so much new opportunity. I never really knew what the actual summer would hold, but the feelings that would kick in before school ended were always expectation, excitement, and wonder.
Then REAL summer would hit, and I would be less in awe. I would struggle with going outside because of the Texas heat. My friends would have plans for the day and I would get discouraged that I didn’t have anything to do. My heart would get let down when the feelings of expectation didn’t ever really seem to realize into anything. Activities that seemed exciting at the beginning of the summer also took on the feeling of obligation and I would dread going to the camp I had asked my parents to sign me up for.
Does anyone relate?
We feel much less of this when we are adults because we have more control in making decisions for what we do and how we spend our time. We have the opposite problem of having too little time, while kids have what feels like endless time that can easily spiral into the doldrums. As adults we think that the doldrums can be overcome by scheduled activities. I’m realizing that the cure for this isn’t activity or the right activity, it’s relationship. When I was younger and looking longingly at what the summer could have in store, I had a craving for connection.
So far this summer if I’m honest, I’ve been operating out of an activity mindset instead of a relationship one. I’ve been looking at my schedule and what I need to accomplish every day and I’ve been trying to replace myself with different things to keep my kids busy. But my kids and my family are asking for ME not more activity.
Does anyone relate?
Until next time, keep fostering connection and let me know how you do this in your busy summer, <3 Kate
Skimmer is our next Burgess Bird in detail and he is a beautiful iridescent bird with blueish-green on his back and white on his stomach. We know exactly where to venture in order to see Tree Swallows. We go to the Deer Grove Preserve in our community where there are some open swampy areas. We don’t even have to walk down to the water in order to see the tree swallows darting through the sky to catch their insect feasts. The dead trees there stand so high that we can see them from the footpath. It’s the perfect spot to see one of their key behaviors: aerial foraging. It’s also a wonderful place for them to nest in the cavities of the trees. Food + Housing = Perfect Tree Swallow Habitat
Thornton W. Burgess describes Peter’s adoration of Skimmer,
”Johnny and Skimmer were the best of friends. Johnny used to delight in watching Skimmer dart out from beneath the branches of the trees and wheel and turn and glide, now sometimes high in the blue, blue sky, and again just skimming the tops of the grass, on wings which seemed never to tire. But he liked still better the bits of gossip when Skimmer would sit in his doorway and chat about his neighbors of the Old Orchard and his adventures out in the Great World during his long journeys to and from the far-away South.”
The Burgess Bird Book for Children, Thornton W. Burgess, Living Press edition, p. 72
If you have seen Tree Swallows in the field, you would understand why Burgess named this bird “Skimmer.” Peter’s description of his flying is spot on.
Stay cool this summer and more importantly, keep birding! <3 Kate
Find the full collection of The Burgess Coloring & Writing Pages here, complete with a list of the birds’ names and speicies!
Eastern Meadowlarks are very common in the prairie grasslands around where I live. Have I seen one? No, not yet, but it is my goal to see one out in the field. How often do you go to a particular ecosystem in order to see a particular bird? Most often, I don’t organize our outings that way. But as we continue to bird watch and log, it would be a good idea to research where the birds we want to see are, what time of day and what season are the best times to see them, and before going, study up on their identification markers.
Even though the Meadowlark has lark in its name, it’s a Blackbird, just like Cowbirds and Orioles. They love to eat insects and are ground foragers.
One really interesting thing is that there are Eastern and Western Meadowlarks found in North America and they are almost identical (allaboutbirds.org). If you watch the video below, you’ll see that the males have a black collar on their chest and this really helps to identify them in the field. They have a beautiful song:
This Spring, I took a break from posting in order to observe and enjoy the Spring Migration. It has been absolutely amazing to meet the different birds that pass through our area on their way North. Some of the highlights of the Spring Migration this year were seeing: Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, SOOOO many Warblers enjoying the buds of our trees, Jenny and Mr. Wren coming up to make a nest in one of the birdhouses in the garden (they are still here!), the beautiful Baltimore Orioles we were able to entice into our yard with our Oriole feeder, seeing Hummer the Ruby-throated Hummingbird come back, and a Summer Tanager. It really has been a delight and I’m sure I’m forgetting some of them.
Picking up where we left off, it’s always a great delight to me when a bird’s name mimics it’s call. That’s exactly what the Northern Bob White does. Check it out:
My kids and I love to mimic this call, and because of that I know it will be easy for them to identify it in the field. They are also very distinguishing when it comes to their size and shape. Listen to Peter Rabbit’s take on the Northern Bob White:
As Peter looked at him it came over him that Bob White was the plumpest bird of his acquaintance. He was so plump that his body seemed almost round. The shortness of his tail added to this effect, for Bob has a very short tail. The upper part of his coat was as handsome reddish-brown with dark streaks and light edgings. His sides and the upper part of his breast were of the same handsome reddish-brown while underneath he was whitish with little bars of black… Altogether he was a handsome little fellow in a modest way.”
Thornton W. Burgess, “The Burgess Bird Book for Children” p. 69, Living Books Press edition
Have you had the pleasure of meeting this modestly handsome fellow in a field?
Growing up, I remember having a great desire to visit Morocco. I loved staring at pictures of beautiful rustic walls and open courtyards, and as soon as I had the chance to taste a Moroccan dish, I fell in love. I haven’t made it there yet, but the desire still lies within my heart. Is there a place you long to visit in the same way?
As I was searching for different dishes to make for our Amazing Africa journey, I was really intrigued by this Moroccan Chicken Pastilla from The Delicious Crescent. I haven’t made a lot of dishes with Phyllo Dough, but this one didn’t look too difficult, and as I read the list of spices that were included in the pastilla, my mouth started to water. It is an added bonus that I could make some Ras El Hanout spice mixture for this recipe and then use it for another recipe that I found in our lineup. Make sure to click on the links for both of these recipes if you want to try to make your own Pastilla!
Here is some of the process, keep your sound on for the crunch of the first slice:
One thing to remember about making something with Phyllo Dough…. take it out of the freezer the night before to let it thaw and set it out on the counter at least 4 hours before you want to make your Pastilla. I didn’t do that, so instead of making it all at once, I started it one night only to realize that I couldn’t finish it with frozen Phyllo Dough. This one was really fun because it’s topped with a little bit of cinnamon and sugar to make it savory and sweet, with the spices building underneath. Because of that, one of my pickiest daughters really liked this dish.
Find more recipes from countries all over Africa on our Amazing Africa Cast Iron Journey page. We are busy building the collection! Check out where our passion for Cast Iron started… it’s all because of the Kitchen Tallow.
Until next time, keep on cooking in cast iron! <3 Kate
Next on our journey through Amazing Africa, we are stopping in Algeria. Algeria is the largest country in Africa with a culture influenced largely by bordering the Mediterranean Sea and being close to Europe and the Middle East. I would love to walk through an Algerian spice souk. It is a delight to all of the senses to walk through the mounds of spices and see their beautiful colors. You will see how a grocery store spice section really pales in comparison if you ever visit one!
I decided to make two dishes for our family to try. I knew that the Doubara might be a little spicy for our four kids and wanted to give them a chance to try something just in case it was. I found a yummy sweet couscous to try after dinner.
While looking for a dish to try, I found this Doubara from Keesha’s Kitchen. It is a vegan soup, full of beautiful spices. She goes into some good details about its origin that are fun to read with your family. I omitted the extra chili peppers because I didn’t have any and it probably created a better spice level for us. You can consider doing the same if you are scared of building too much spice in your dish or you can try it the way that it is.
The recipe calls for dried chickpeas and fava beans. You can usually find these ready-to-go in the can, but dried is a more budget friendly option. Make sure to follow the directions on the back of your dried items the night before because they usually require an overnight soak. If you find yourself in a pinch, there is often a “Quick Soak” method, but beware that it still takes a few hours. Things like fava beans and harissa can be found in the World Cuisine section of your grocery store around the Middle Eastern section. If you are traveling through Amazing Africa with us, there are few more countries that will use the Harissa paste and saffron.
On the fourth step in the recipe it says “Add the tomatoes and chickpeas” and I believe it is meant to say fava beans in place of tomatoes.
It’s quite easy to make this Doubara as you can see:
Couscous is a great addition to your meal and kids love it! We also ate ours with some pita bread found at our local grocery store and some chicken nuggets on the side for our very small eaters.
After we ate our Doubara we made some Mesfouf, an Algerian sweet couscous. I found the recipe over at Miam Miam & Yum. As I read through her post I learned that there is a method of preparing couscous with a couscoussiere. If you do not have one of those, you can prepare the couscous according to your package instructions like I did and this will actually take you up to the 6th step in the recipe. Those unfamiliar with steaming raisins can boil some water and then pour it over your raisins in a bowl, letting them sit for a few minutes until they are nice a juicy, as she mentions in the recipe’s introduction.
I would love to see the detail that is put into this dish. As I was dressing our Mesfouf to serve, I wondered how Algerians make it. If it is something like oatmeal that members in the family dress differently depending on their tastes. We all have things that vary according to taste in our family!
Lastly, before eating our meal we prayed for the country of Algeria and it was a sweet time for us as a family and something that I recommend to those traveling through Amazing Africa with us.
Until the next meal, keep cooking in Cast Iron and don’t be afraid to try some new spice! <3 Kate
For something to season and maintain your cast iron, check out our Kitchen Tallow.