Friday, March 30, 2012

Birds big and small

My tree climbing and bird watching friend Andrew told me that a Great Horned Owl had been spotted in Franklin park. Yesterday I took the boys out to see if we could find it. We certainly found lots of traces, little furballs and feathers and bones, and the Bluejays were screaming which they do when they locate owls. But we didn't see any, so today we returned in the company of Andrew. On the way we spotted many things worth seeing.

 A romantic couple in the little Stony Brook creek.

Limegreen Spicebush flowers, shining by the waterside.

 Red maple flowers fell in the water.

The cowbirds returned to the maple outside my house.

Boys in a fort - work in progress.

Looks promising.

Being in the woods with a real bird expert is a lot of fun.We spotted flickers, redbellied woodpeckers and both hawks and turkey vultures. By a little wetland we saw some welcome migrants - chipping sparrows, lots of Redwinged blackbirds, a relaxed song sparrow drying up in the sun after a bath. When we went through the woods and ended up at the pond it got even more interesting. I've never before seen Pine warblers or Phoebes or Palm warblers, but today they were there, although not within camera distance. These little migrants overwinter in the South of the US, and their song is always a great sign of spring. While me and Andrew were watching up the tree tops with our binoculars, Milo went down to the pond and checked out the geese.

Time was short so we moved on toward the pine grove where the owls were rumored to roost.

We found the same traces as yesterday -pellets of little bones, feathers and fur, and some spotting on tree trunks, but if the owls were there, they were hiding very well.

Practicing owl-hooting

We also spotted a few turtles - here's a painted one.

Seeing an owl is something I've wanted for a while, so I might very well be back in the pine grove very soon.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Signs of spring in Franklin park

In a somewhat less than great mood today, I dropped my son off at a friends house and then walked home via Franklin park. The upper entrance on Forest Hill Rd takes you right into the park, but it also brings you to some of the more neglected and overgrown areas. The invasive plants are fighting each other there, mostly on the ground and understory levels, and for a plant lover like me that can be challenging to watch as well, especially if you are already in a bad mood. But there are still tall oaks, and pines, and beeches and black birches, and few maples here and there.

Bishopsweed or goutweed is fighting the garlic mustard for ground space.
Japanese knotweed is rearing its ugly head.

The only natives right here are Poison ivy and brambles, which aren't exactly the friendliest ones.

Sometimes people plant garden stuff: Daylillies, spring bulbs, vincas.


The forsythia sure brightened things up on this gray day

and I guess it's positive to see one invasive fight another, Bittersweet here trying to strangle Buckthorn.

 A damp, low area, could have been a spring vernal pool with frogs creeking right now. Instead, it's a mucky dirty dump area. In a few months the knotweed will grow 10 ft tall here.

Although this nest proved that some creatures enjoy the environment right here.

And fuzzy sumac were found farther from the swamp.

 Logs covered in green are still some of the most colorful things this time of year.

And little shinleaf, evergreen wildflower, looks cute as ever. Hope new flowers will form soon!
I looked for Canada mayflower and Sarsaparilla, the other wildflowers that I have seen here, but didn't see any signs of them yet.

Not a great picture, but this is the hairy woodpecker, one of my friends from winter bird feeding. You can tell that it's a hairy rather than a downy because of the long pointy beak.

Roxbury Puddingstone.  I will quote Wikipedia here (although wish I had a real, old-fashioned, Book to quote), since I have not read up enough on this:
"Pudding stone or Plum-pudding stone, is a popular name applied to a conglomerate that consists of distinctly rounded pebbles whose colors contrast sharply with the color of the finer-grained, often sandy, matrix or cement surrounding them." This is the most common form of rock you will found around here. When I first arrived in town I thought it was construction debris! Then I thought it might be traces from the Ice age, when rocks got rolled around and smoothed out by the heavy ice layers. But of course, it is much much older than that. At some point in time, rounded rocks of different sizes and mineral origins were encapsuled in a different kind of rock. This particular Puddingstone is common not only in Roxbury or Jamaica Plain, but all over southeast Boston. Or, I should say, under.

More upland I found blueberry bushes with big buds.

I believe the upper and the lower pictures show two varieties of lowbush blueberries.

 This is an old Highbush blueberry - you can tell by the "kidney bean gall", a deformed growth caused by an insect, only found on Blueberry.

And finally I came to see what I knew would brighten my day: an old flowering dogwood.

These adorable buds were almost opening up as I was there.
 It is completely amazing that this tree is still alive, since it got severely broken during the previous winter and its heavy snow. But many branches are leafing out, and in a week or so the flowers will be open.

Don't miss it!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cooper's hawk

Across the street, right now.


My resident Cooper's hawk is spending some time on a treetop. The way she is preening her feathers reminds me of the way my cat cleans herself after each meal. Maybe the hawk too just had breakfast.

The tail bands are easy to see.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A home for a day

Above is the stand of tall pines that became our home base for a day. The dappled sunlight was shining on the forest floor. 
Fungus with green algae, ferns. In all the grey- and brown-ness that is the woods this time of year this soft green covered log was shining as well.

A gentle wind swayed the pines, making a soft but mighty sound.

Our goal was to climb one of the tallest of the pines. While ropes were set (by people who can set ropes higher than I can) I explored the very nearest surroundings. Lots of red maples, pines, quite a lot of storm damage from an October storm that affected this area.

The only thing that gave the identity of this scraggly little tree away was the oak gall.

This was a mystery tree. Looking like nothing else on the site, we thought it might be a very young Cucumber Magnolia, who happens to extend north into this very forest. When I was back at home I used my excellent tree bark ID key. Turns out our young tree might be a hickory - pignut, shagbark or mockernut. Since there were no mature shagbarks around - they're easy to spot - it might be one of the others. The cucumber magnolia likes wet feet, and this was close to a swamp but on a hillside. Next time we go we will take a good look again.

It was spotted with lacy strands of lichens or liverworts.
As they often do, preparations took some time (that I didn't mind the least - I was in my home the forest) but eventually the 4 of us were ascending this giant. Pine trees often loose their lower branches while growing and to find a live, safe branch to hang a rope from, we needed to aim very high. In this picture you can see three of the ropes, I'm in the yellow helmet.
The tree was so high we had to use what's called SRT or single rope technique - the branch was simply too high up for hanging the rope over it and climb on both ends. This way, one end of the rope was fastened in the top (by the most experienced climber of us, Andrew), and then the rest of us climbed up using the hanging end. It was a nice bouncy feel. And see what a trunk this tree has!

At about 90 ft up we reached our rope ends and re-set them higher up. At approximately 115 ft I took a snack break and ate my apple.

Up there, we had two different worlds to take in. One small, close by, with lichens and beetles and shining drops of sap.  
Maybe this beetle lives his whole life in the tree tops, or maybe he's just passing by.

The bark of a pine tree looks very different up here - smooth and grey.

A closer look at the ropes and the gear that is holding us up.

Looking out from the tree we could see a distant horizon. We could see the red maple buds close to bursting. We heard winter wrens, golden crowned kinglets, chickadees and distant crows.

Going down is always with a certain sadness - you will end up in the usual world again, the flat and two dimensional one. Plus, all the effort you spent getting up means you want to get a good chunk of time up there! But there's always another time.

Getting back to the car took its time. Rarely do I meet someone who likes to talk about trees non-stop  like me, so there was lots to see and explore on the way back.

Here is the enormous cucumber magnolia. I'll be so excited to see it in bloom!

Pine branches and moss make a nice color composition.
A wild holly.

A little swamp, inhabited by turtles, frogs and other critters.

I look forward to coming back here!