Nature teaches and entertains us and comforts us when we are weary or worried. We welcome visitors who enjoy the soothing sound of water and the small miracles to be found in hedgerows and tall grass and vernal pools. The farm with its 180 acres, its ponds and streams, fields and forest, offers homes for many wild things. Nature isn’t only found in the mountains or at the seashore or national parks. In a world of hurry and distractions less spectacular places can also offer peace and healing and a new perspective.
Several miles of trails wind through the woods and fields, and we hope to develop more to connect skid trails and provide easier access to some areas. Andrew Nelson, a botanist on our Board, has compiled a Flora of St. Francis Farm and has mapped some of our trails. (See map at bottom of page.) Our library includes nature guides to help identify birds, amphibians, snakes, insects, wildflowers, trees and grasses. Visitors can explore and use our hand lenses, magnifying bug boxes, dip nets and binoculars. (See list of resources on Day Visits page) Arrangements can be made for a resident of the farm to lead a nature walk and answer questions. (See Hunting & Fishing at bottom of page)
Through the Seasons
has its own beauty–ice lace on the edge of stream and pond, snow lining every bare branch and dusting the hemlocks. Deep snow softens edges and shows the smooth contours of our hilly fields. Sunlight gives the impression the snow has been sprinkled with diamond dust. Tracks tell stories and make patterns and raise questions. In winter we are apt to see deer and turkey in the fields and sometimes a fox in the hedgerow or a mink near the water. We hear jays and crows and chickadees and sometimes owls and coyotes. We enjoy cross-country skiing and getting out on clear nights to see the winter stars.
starts with returning migratory birds, first the red-winged blackbirds and then robins and bluebirds, swallows and orioles. (see bird list at bottom of page) As soon as the wet places thaw we go on evening walks to listen for the wood frogs and spring peepers. Frogs and salamanders soon lay eggs in vernal pools and small ponds. The brooks are high and the steelhead run even in the tributary stream by the road. The woods are carpeted with wildflowers–first hepatica and trout lily, then trillium, spring beauty, squirrel corn, violets, toothwort, wild lily-of-the-valley, and jack-in-the-pulpit. They all need to bloom before the trees leaf out and block the sun from reaching the forest floor. We hear the barred owls often in the spring and get out whenever it’s warm enough at dusk to listen for the call and whistling flight of the woodcock’s mating display. Ruffed grouse drum in the first morning light. As spring warms other frogs and toads begin calling and birds are building nests in trees and shrubs, on the ground, and in the boxes we put out for them.
By summer the woodland wildflowers have gone to seed and died back, the birds are harder to see with the trees fully leafed out, and the work of the growing season leaves us less time to look and listen. The field wildflowers are blooming now and the songbirds are feeding nestlings while fledglings are learning to fend for themselves. The kingfishers and great blue herons come to the pond to fish. Frogs and northern water snakes and snapping turtles are seen around its edges. We meet wild things when we’re out picking berries around the edges of the fields. Mowing hay we may flush out a fawn or a pheasant or a turkey sitting on its nest. Various birds come to feed on the insects disturbed by the mowing. Sunrise and sunset are the best times to see most of the wild things, but the butterflies are in the flower gardens and fields and dragonflies patrol the pond edge and the field path through the heat of the day. When the bee balm is in bloom, we’re pretty sure to see the hummingbirds any time we stop and look. Walking the field loop we may encounter turkey poults just able to fly or ruffed grouse just out of the egg and fiercely defended by the attendant mother. In the cool at the end of the day, we go up to the hilltop to enjoy sunset and stars.
brings the colors of dying foliage and the flocking up of blackbirds and swallows for the southward migration. The salmon run up Trout Brook and with the cooler weather and fewer biting insects we walk more again in the woods. In the early fall there are still butterflies and dragonflies. The barred owl young are fledging and setting up territories and we hear their raucous calls in the evenings. As the leaves fall, nests we’d missed earlier become visible. We gather mosses, small ferns and partridge berry and create a tiny woodland garden in a glass jar to enjoy a bit of green and the moist woodland scent through the coming winter.
Finding a Balance
Nature both irritates and delights us as we go about our work. Snapping turtles lay their eggs in the soft soil of our gardens, uprooting seedlings in the process. Black flies swarm around us as we plant seeds or tend goats.
The deer ate off our fall cover crops until we put up an 8-foot fence around the garden. A few years later we added chicken wire along the bottom 3 feet to try to keep out the woodchucks and screened in the grape vines to keep birds and raccoons from taking all the fruit. Now songbirds perch on the fence and seem to spend more time in the garden eating the bugs that eat the crops. By late spring the bats and birds, frogs and dragonflies seem to be keeping up pretty well with the flies and mosquitos so that we can sit by the pond in peace.
We were pleased to discover a raccoon den in an old maple tree and enjoyed watching the young hunt along the pond edge. The raccoon that came in through the third floor skylight in the middle of the night wasn’t so welcome.
The muskrats we like to watch in the pond were tunneling their burrows into the edges and compromising the strip of land between pond and brook. We didn’t like the advice we got to trap them out, but while we were thinking it over, we started seeing mink more often and muskrats seldom.
I delight in finding nests, but Zachary doesn’t care to have phoebe nestlings in the rafters above his drying lumber. Still we are glad to share this farm with wild neighbors. We puzzle over tracks in the snow and welcome the frog choruses that proclaim spring. We always yield to skunks in the berry patch. We encourage those plants that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. One hilly field is mowed every 3 to 5 years to create the brushy habitat preferred by woodcock. We try to remember ourselves and remind our guests that this farm is a home we share with many creatures and that much of our pleasure in it comes from that diversity.
Map on the left shows boundaries in black and woods and field trails in white. Visitors are welcome to walk the trails–no motorized vehicles.
Hunting & Fishing
Hunting of deer and turkeys is by permission. Hunting coyotes, any hunting with dogs, and trapping are not permitted. Coyotes help keep woodchucks and rodents in check and have not troubled our livestock. Domestic dogs have killed chickens and harassed goats; packs of hunting dogs cause stress to wildlife already stressed by winter weather. Fishermen are welcome to park in designated areas and to walk our woods and field trails to Trout Brook. Hunters and fishermen, like other visitors, are asked not to leave trash.
*nests found on farm
Great blue heron
Black-crowned night heron
Great Horned Owl
Great Crested Flycatcher*