Thursday, June 6, 2013

Mt Mineral weekend retreat

I left town in a rented car, since my own was still under repair. The nicely air conditioned Honda drove me West toward Shutesbury, MA, on the foothills of the Berkshires, West of the Qaubbin reservoir, to an old resort turned retreat called Temenos. Centered around some mineral springs there was once a hotel, twice burned down and forgotten, before some Buddhist minded people bought the land and turned it into a wooded retreat with just a few cabins for rent.

I wondered among the cliffs and the woods, listening to the bird chorus, relaxing in the warm shade. The sun would have been hot, since this weekend reached temperatures in the 90's, but under the trees it was perfect.

I have never seen so many Ladyslipper orchids before - eventually I stopped taking a picture of every one, but not until I had found a least 20.

 I know very little about geology and the rocks that form the base for our lands, but I could see it was different from what I see in Eastern MA around Boston. Obviously the ice age have left traces here, with boulders, cracks and ledges.

This photo is taken through the screened porch - my neighbors and resident Phoebes, tending their nest under my roof.

I also saw a long list of birds, some new to me. Pileated woodpecker, blue headed vireo, ovenbird, pine warbler. In the never ending chorus I could hear Eastern woodpeewee, scarlet tanagers, winter wrens, robins, goldfinches, downy woodpeckers,  and red eyed vireo.At night I heard the spring peepers gathering by the pond.

Along a brook, little puddles with mineral rich water. I pumped my drinking water from the well, and the water was slightly reddish from the iron and manganese. I felt a sensation of fullness only after drinking that water.

Neither have I ever seen so many Mountain laurels. I see a lot of it in the gardens I tend to, but there is no comparison to a wood filled of wild ones, about to burst. Next year I will schedule my visit to the second week of June, so that I can walk in among the flowers.

They have beautiful, twisting branches.

Mountain Laurel is an understory shrub, growing under the tree canopy, fighting for a chance in the sun. It is an evergreen, taking advantage of the sun during the winter when trees lose their leaves. Other understory plants like Moosewood or striped Maple below, have enormous leaves.

Hobblebush (Viburnum Lantanoides) is doing the same thing, growing big leaves as sun catchers. I missed the flowers of this one, it must have been a treat as well.

 I never saw any, but I was told that along this cliff ledge with dripping water, you could often see porcupines.

I think I must be part plant - I can so clearly feel the energy coming down from the sky and into the green, green, green...

 Virginia creeper vine was covering some of the rocks. I found it interesting that I did not see any poison Ivy at all in these woods. In Boston, it would inhabit the same kind of woods.

 A few Trilliums, flowers gone

 Star made out of root

Young American toad. It was no bigger than my thumb nail.
Bear claw marks! We were told not to compost and be careful not to leave food scraps around.

 The after-dinner hike lead up to the mountain top and the view of the lake below.

It was there and then that I first heard the song of the hermit thrush. It sang for a good 20 minutes and I followed it deeper and deeper into the woods, mesmerized by its sunset song, until I got a glimpse of it before it flew off and the mosquitos really started to eat me alive.

The next morning all I wanted to do was to find the hermit thrush again, and I did hear it briefly around nine, but then it went quiet.

The retreat had its own little pond, but the water was so bitterly cold that not even 94 degrees could convince me to go into the water completely.

Another lovely wildflower is the Indian Cucumber root.

Back up on the mountaintop again, a better view of the lake, and the great beaver lodge.

Oak leaf gall, like an apple made of rice paper

Below the mountain, a creek of cold fresh water leading to the lake. Gray tree frogs were heard but not seen.

 Under the root system of the fallen trees, a bird built a nest, maybe the winter wren.

 And on the forest floor, little lovely star flower shines.

I hope to post some of the sound recordings I made of the hermit thrush for my next post.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Muskrats, beaver, herons and deer

Northwest of Boston lies a large wildlife refuge area called Great Meadows, including Concord and Assabet rivers and large wetland areas along both of them. Many birders carrying binoculars were there, and we did see many different birds. I'm no expert on water fowl, but I think we saw ringbilled ducks, goldeneye ducks, bufflehead ducks, mallards, geese, and a grebe. A heron and a turkey vulture also flew by. The blackbirds were singing and swallows were flying low over the water.

 This couple seemed to be looking for a proper nesting site.

Dogwoods among the cat tails were redder than ever. The boys had lots of fun dismantling cat tails in the wind and made passersby happy with their playing, and all our clothes full of fluff.

 The sun kept struggling to come out, and we saw dramatic changes in the sky - faraway rain, heavy clouds, rays of sun.

The calm Concord river. The sign told us to watch out for river otters.

This goldfinch greeted us from a maple - almost all molted by now!

This female mallard blends in so well with the ground. She is not yet nesting, but she will hopefully find a safe place soon.
Behind and to the left of her are lotus seed pods. Obviously someone introduced them to this area, I don't know if they stay put or tend to be more invasive. We took some of the dried out pods home to decorate.

We also saw muskrats! They were quite funny, like this one trying to climb on top of the bottom one, give him a rub and then splash back into the water. We saw others pursuing mates and a few just taking it easy and washing their faces very much like a cat does it.

On the way we passed a large rather messy wetland with obvious beaver impact, and in the middle we saw heron nests. We drove in to the cemetery right by and walked down to the water. From there we could count about 10 inhabited nests, and 13 herons, a few sharing a nest. My camera was not cooperating very well, but it was still an amazing sight. We might try to go back, on a sunny morning in about two weeks, and try to get a better look.

On the way out: ripples in the water, and a beaver swam by, but dived before I could take a picture.

We stopped briefly by Assabet river. The sun was coming out, it was close to 7 and it was a gorgeous night. Just a few days ago, my friend saw another beaver swimming by, and doing the characteristic tail splash before diving underwater.
And before we finally had to hit the road home again, we saw six deer on a field. I will soon visit this great place again.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Millenium Park

Silvery pussy willow buds

On Saturday morning I held my first own Nature Walk - in the Franklin Park wilderness, so close to where I live and go so often. After posting in this blog and on Facebook, a few people have asked to come with me some time and to see what I see. So I thought I would invite the ones that have asked, and keep an open mind to what would come up. After writing the invitation I decided to sleep on it before making it public, but my cat decided to publish it, by sitting on my computer keyboard, and she also decided that I should invite everyone I know and not only a few select ones. In the end three adults and a two year old showed up, which was just perfect.

 It was sunny, cold and windy, and still lots of snow. We talked about Beech leaves and how they often stay on the trees through winter, some papery white, some with more of this golden hue.

The little brook was lively as usual.

We saw swelling maple buds, mighty oaks, poison ivy vines, and the little marsh by the golf course where you can find great spring migrating warblers and others, very soon.

On Sunday I headed out on late afternoon, to Millenium park. I was hoping to see the beavers in action, and was drawn to the water and swamplands. It was so beautiful and the sun was shining, and it didn't matter that I did not see the beavers.

I did see this large cottonwood tree, their favorite food tree of all. This one must have gotten big enough before the beavers moved in, but they have feasted on many many of the young trees.

Blooming alder grew by the river

Everywhere was the sound of the blackbirds, singing, signaling, sounding. I have never seen or heard so many.

 I believe these are red maple buds.

Red osier dogwood stems against a backdrop of phragmite stems.

A couple of views of the marsh. Since the beavers moved in, Saw mill brook has expanded and formed this amazing wetland.

 And they were still busy.

Then I saw that the beavers were not the only busy ones. Someone, and I assume this is the work of park rangers, have taken the time to saw off the stumps left by the beavers. I do not understand why anyone takes the time to do this - and still leave the stumps and the tooth marked wood chips on the ground.

 If they want to stay busy with the saw, why not take out this mess of Bittersweet?

 Skunk cabbage, arranged like a bouquet in the water. I've heard another name for them - Swamp candles, which I like.

Reflections in the calm water.

 Red dogwoods, phragmites, trees in the setting sun.
 I wanted to continue through the woods on this path, but time was running out and I had to start walking back. 
 By my car this mockingbird sat quietly and enjoyed the evening.