UNDER CONSTRUCTION. This will be replaced with the updated version in the next few months.
How to Get There
If you live near the margins of any town or city, there is probably a farm or woodlot or other relatively undeveloped land near your home. You might pass by it every day and never really notice. So slow down and notice!
The farm where I used to go in Dover was located near the northeastern edge of the city. There was a typical suburban development, where my friend lived, right across the street from this farm, and the margin of the farm between the soybean fields and the suburban street was covered by a narrow strip of oak and tulip forest. Perpendicular to that street was a country road that led east into more and more farm country. But just a few hundred feet down that road was the Lazy Farmer's house and barn.
A kid on a bicycle notices such details: The farm across the street is directly connected to that old white house around the corner. If you're a typical adult suburbanite, such connections might not be so obvious. You might need to slow down, walk around, and figure out what house belongs to the little patch of woodland that you've been ignoring.
Don't forget to introduce yourself and describe your intentions before you begin exploring the woods. Most small landowners are happy to allow people to use their woods and fields for watching birds and observing nature, but they'd rather know for sure who's there and why.
My friend and I made ourselves known to the Lazy Farmer. We were not the first kids to go tramping through his woods or fishing in his pond, but we were the first to do so with his permission. Sad.
Terrain and Ecosystems
Like most of Delaware, the Lazy Farmer's farm was very nearly flat. There was a small stream that formed the eastern boundary with the next farm, and the land sloped very slightly toward that stream.
Most of the farm, of course, was planted in crops. Of a total of maybe three hundred acres, about thirty acres was forested. The forests were mostly very swampy, with no clear boundary between the forest and the stream.
These woodlands, tiny as they were, and these fields, cultivated though they were, were home to quite a diverse population of birds and animals. There were raccoons, opossums, squirrels, weasels, and the occasional red fox. There were downy woodpeckers, brown thrashers, and numerous songbirds. These were the prey of the resident cooper's hawks and an occasional visiting red-tailed hawk. A few coveys of bobwhite quail would feed in the fields and shelter in the hedgerows, along with a great many rabbits (which were also hunted by the red-tailed hawks). In the night, the screech owls hunted the deer mice and who-knows-what besides
All this in a few acres left wooded because they were too wet to plow.
This farm was an interesting microcosm of the woodlands of the Delmarva Peninsula. True, the forests did not support deer, and many other forms of wildlife were absent, but many were present and easily observable.
What micro-wilderness is hidden in your neighborhood? Take a good look, and you will almost certainly see much more than you thought you would.
The Lazy Farmer's farm consisted of about seven distinct fields, not counting the vegetable garden, and the land surrounding and separating these fields was the woodland or hedgerow or wetland where the wild things lived.
Along the western edge of the farm was a narrow strip of forest between the soybeans and the suburbs. The northern boundary was an even narrower strip of trees separating this farm from a much larger corporate-owned field of soybeans that stretched to the northern horizon. The eastern boundary was lost somewhere in a wide strip of swampy forest with a muddy stream in the middle, and the southern boundary was the road.
Most of the western half of the farm was divided into four soybean fields, and part was occupied by the house, barn, and a two-acre vegetable garden. A dirt lane ran north-south from the house to the back woods between the soybean fields, and another lane ran east from the middle of the soybeans into the oat field. The eastern half was about 2/3 planted in oats. A small corner of this area was planted in feed corn for the chickens.
There was a very narrow strip, barely one tree wide, between the southern soybean field and the oat field. Between the northern and the southern soybean fields west of the lane was a small artificial pond. A weedy, brushy strip vaguely reminiscent of a hedge ran beside the east-west lane from the pond to the oat field.
North of the oat field and east of the northern soybean field was a swampy forest of about ten acres where an ill-defined stream arose and trickled off to the east. And east of the oats was an even larger, even swampier forest. Here, on the odd patch of higher ground, was where my friend and I would go camping.
The "Lazy Farmer's" farm, as I remember it.
Plants and Animals
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, by any means. This is just a list of the most common things I remember seeing there, and some of the more interesting things I saw there.