Monthly Archives: January 2011

Loving Our Sons and Daughters

Dear Friends,

A week ago a young man from our neighborhood and a childhood friend of our son’s died in a fatal car accident. Our hearts are breaking for his mom, younger brothers, dad, extended family, and friends.

Within our community and among my children’s circle of friends, this is the third such horrific death of a young man, in as many months.

Hold your sons and daughters. Tell them everyday how much you love them and why. Choose your battles to be few and far between. Try to help them as best and in as many ways as you can to see beyond their immediate teenage travails and anguish. Help them imagine the beautiful adult they will grow to become as they will know in their hearts that they are well- and greatly-loved and well- and greatly-appreciated.

There is nothing more shattering than a vibrant life ended prematurely and nothing more punishing than a life lived longer than that of your child’s.

And know, too, that there is randomness to death, no matter how hard you love your sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters.

In loving memory of my brother Bill


Sea Squirts

Beautiful Industry Monkey Balls

From Joey at Good Morning Gloucester:

Our fishermen call them Monkey Balls but they are more commonly referred to by marine biologists as “Sea Squirts”. Sea Squirt is a pretty apt description as every time one gets squished they seem to find a way to squirt you right in the eye. I took these photos Saturday morning just as they came out of the water.

See more of Joey’s great photos, an informative and comprehensive series by Kathleen Valentine titled How to Publish Your Book (or Not) and all the good things going on over at Good Morning Gloucester.

Chris Leahy and The Birds of Cape Ann

Bird Talk

Come hear Mass Audubon’s Chair of Field Ornithology and Gloucester’s own Chris Leahy at the Sawyer Free Library on Tuesday, February 1 at 7pm, main floor. Chris promises a lively and comprehensive talk about the myriad beautiful bird species that surround us here on Cape Ann. His published works include Birdwatcher’s Companion to North American Birdlife, Introduction to New England Birds, and The Nature of Massachusetts.

This lecture is free and open to the public

Postponned: New date to be Announced

New Director’s Series at the Arnold Arboretum

Magnolia 'Betty' Arnold ArboretumMagnolia ‘Betty’

In this new lecture series, nationally recognized experts will examine an array of contemporary topics related to Earth’s biodiversity and evolutionary history, the environment, conservation biology, and key social issues associated with current science. Opportunities to informally chat with the speaker will follow each lecture.

Lectures are free, but registration is required. All lectures held in the Hunnewell Building, Arnold Arboretum.

Register online or call 617.384.5277

A note about the photo above: I love taking photos at the Arnold Arboretum. Not only does every turn along the sweeping paths lead to a beautiful vista, with gorgeous and beautifully cared-for examples of individual plant specimens, but also because the garden is organized by plant family. As as example, surrounding the Hunnewell Building is a stunning collection of members of the Magnoliaceae, or Magnolia Family, both cultivars and species from around the globe. This allows you to more easily compare and comprehend some of the similarities and differences between, for instance, native sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginina), tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), and hybrid ‘Magnolia ‘Elizabeth.’ When photographing at the Arnold I also take a photo of the identifying tag attached to the tree or shrub, which allows me to continue photographing without having to stop and write down the information. Later I can easily look up the plant to find out all I can.


A Darwinian Look at Darwin’s Evolutionist Ancestors
Ned Friedman, Director, Arnold Arboretum
NEW DATE ADDED: Monday, January 31, 6:30–8:30pm

For over a century before the publication of On the Origin of Species, naturalists, theologians, atheists, horticulturalists, medical practitioners, poets, and philosophers had advanced evolutionary concepts for the diversification of life through descent with modification. The early history of evolutionary thought will be examined through the lens of Charles Darwin’s highly personal views of his evolutionist ancestors. We will examine the question of what set Darwin apart from the dozens of advocates of evolution who preceded him. Is Darwin truly deserving of his place in history? Come find out!

Register online or call 617.384.5277

Restoring Hawaii’s Marvels of Evolution

Robert Robichaux, University of Arizona
Monday, February 7, 6:30–8:30pm

Evolving in splendid isolation over millions of years, Hawaii’s native plants exhibit patterns of diversity that are unrivaled elsewhere on Earth. Especially striking are the many examples of adaptive radiation, in which original immigrants to the islands evolved into dazzling arrays of plants exhibiting great variation in form and habitat preference. Yet Hawaii’s native plants face an uncertain future. Many native plants, such as the exquisitely beautiful silverswords and lobeliads, now teeter on the edge of extinction. Join botanist Robert Robichaux of the University of Arizona and the Hawaiian Silversword Foundation as he discusses recent efforts to restore Hawaii’s marvels of plant evolution.

Register online or call 617.384.5277


American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

The Robin is the One

That interrupt the Morn

With hurried — few — express Reports

When March is scarcely on –

The Robin is the One

That overflow the Noon

With her cherubic quantity –

An April but begun –

The Robin is the One

That speechless from her Nest

Submit that Home — and Certainty

And Sanctity, are best            - Emily Dickinson

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)American Robin

They’re back this winter, and in legions! The Robins have returned to our garden to feast on the fruits of the ‘Dragon Lady’ hollies. For more information on the American Robin see older post: Round Robin Red-breast.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) ©Kim Smith 2010

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) tailfeathers Beautiful Tailfeathers!


American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

Songbirds in Winter ~ Sharing Recent Letters from Readers

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)American Robin

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops – at all -


And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -

And sore must be the storm -

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -

And on the strangest Sea -

Yet, never, in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of Me         –  Emily Dickinson

Dear Gardening Friends,  Please forgive when I am slow to answer your kind and thoughtful letters. I am struggling with an elbow injury and have had to limit my writing and photography somewhat (with extreme reluctance!!!). I love to hear about your bird and butterfly encounters, so please, keep your letters coming–just know that I am slow! Warmest wishes, Kim

From Jeannette in Marblehead – Kim Happy New Year, So enjoy your emails.  Walter and I were in Gloucester in November and drove by your home to try to peak at your garden but of course, it was the end of November and the gardens were sleeping.   It looked enchanting with the little sparkling lights. A quick questions where does one find the Nyjer feeder and seeds.  We have been so unsuccessful, all our bird feeders in the past have become squirrel feeders. I  hope to come and see your gardens this Spring/Summer.

Dear Jeannette, We purchase Nyjer and safflower seeds from our local Essex Bird Shop and Pet Supply and I imagine most Mom and Pop type bird and pet supply shops stock both varieties of seeds as well as the Nyjer seed feeder. I like looking at the Duncraft website–they have quite a selection of Nyjer seed feeders. We have the very basic single tube feeders, but I lust after their three tube copper feeder. I wonder if they photoshopped all those finches!

From Judy in Gloucester -Thanks for the wonderful information, Kim.  I have what I think is a sparrow that spends each evening tucked into the corner of the little porch over my side door facing your house. S/he is there reliably every late afternoon as soon as it is dark and leaves in the early morning.  It was the same routine last year.  I’m wondering if it’s the same bird every evening and perhaps even the same bird last year and this.

Dear Judy, I can’t say for sure without seeing a photo or the actual bird, however, House Finches and European House Sparrows are well known for their habit of nesting in the eaves. We have had several pairs of House Finches build their nests on top of the porch pillars that are tucked under the porch roof, as well as House Sparrows sleeping overnight in the same areas, just as you describe yours. I would think it is the same bird every evening and possibly from year to year. House Sparrows are year round residents on Cape Ann (and nearly everywhere else).

From Joan in Gloucester -Dear Kim, As always, I enjoy your email messages. We use Nyger seed for one feeder, as well as sunflower seed for another and sunflower hearts for the third. We happily feed whoever comes to eat‹birds (our preference), but the cleverness and ingenuity of squirrels as well as their acrobatic antics have brought us much laughter over the years. For a while we tried many different types of feeders guaranteed to defeat squirrels, but found that the squirrels almost always could find their way to defeat the feeder designers.

It turns out that we also feed a lot of pigeons, starlings and other (I consider) less than appealing species of birds, but in the end, we are feeding hungry creatures who are our neighbors (including a brown rat who lives in the marsh next to our yard).

I love watching the various eaters and how they perch on nearby trees or shrubs waiting their turn, having little spats, diving in to disrupt each other, chasing each other away and reflecting the behavior of the humans who occupy our world in many of the same ways.

Thanks for your always wonderful photographs and the information that is so interesting.

Gratefully, Joan

From Diane in Ipswich -Hi Kim,I so enjoy your e-mails!  Today one of our “mystery birds” was identified in your e-mail!  We have had Eastern Towhees in our yard the past couple of weeks.  I could not find them in my Audubon book.  I saw Eastern Towhee mentioned in the e-mail and googled it to see what that was and voila!  There was our mystery bird!

We have also had many Pine Siskins lately.  I did not know what they were called either!

I too delight in watching the birds. I have two sets of feeders and keep them well stocked with Nyger, woodpecker food, black oil sunflowers and suet.  I also throw millet, sunflower and sometimes, as a treat, peanuts in the shell for the ground birds – and squirrels.  Since I have been doing that the squirrels leave the feeders alone.  Although watching their acrobatics on the feeders is very entertaining!

The birds I know the names of that are here in my Argilla Rd. Ipswich yard are chickadees, siskins, red & yellow finches, various sparrow like birds, a wren or two, towhees, titmouses, lots of juncos, two kinds of woodpeckers, mourning doves, blue jays and 3 or 4 pairs of cardinals.  Sometimes the chickadees will eat out of my hand.  What a feeling! Have a lovely day!

Dianne Fischbach

Ipswich Garden Club

CBR, CRS, GRI, Green

Broker / Owner

Coast & Country Real Estate

From the Byers in Gloucester - Thanks for your very interesting email on Pine Siskins! I have never been able to identify any on the feeders previously, but thanks to your excellent photo (which I printed & stuck in my bird book) I may now have a chance. We have all the rest of the gang, goldfinches, chickadees, 2 var of nuthatches, titmice, purple (or maybe house) finches, juncos (ours seem to be much darker than your photo shows) & of course, zillions of sparrows. So maybe we can now separate out those pine siskins. Thanks again!

A quick note on the subject of butterflies: if you haven’t seen it yet, you should, & I would say ASAP.  The Library has, in their 1st display case on right as you go in the front, a fantastic display of tropical butterflies! The story Tom & I got from a couple of the librarians is that these display trays they have were seized by customs authorities for some malfeasance; & that customs has the option, instead of destroying the stuff, to “lend” it to educational, nonprofit, etc. institutions. I would suspect they will not be on display for long, & probably the fluorescent overhead lights would in any case be detrimental to the magnificent colors.

Best wishes & here’s to an EARLY spring! Ann (& Tom) Byers Western Ave., Gloucester

From Sally on the South Shore - Hi Kim — I just heard yesterday for squirrrel proof feeders, you hang a SLINKY at the top!   Remember them?   I guess a toy store would be the place to look.   I am going to get 2 and can’t wait to see if it works.   Love your column.   Sally Goodrich

Hi Sally, let me know if slinkies do the trick!