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.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ponkapoag bog and Franklin park

Yesterday was such a great day. In fact, I have a hard time coming up with a name for this blogpost because it feels the day was so rich and full of adventure. It begun with this view outside my window: a redwinged blackbird, returning to my backyard as they always do in March. It is about two weeks earlier than last year, but aside from what this means in terms of global warming and climate change, it was still a happy awakening.

The little boys spent the night on a sleepover and I had the whole day to myself, and although the house could definitively have used some TLC, of course I couldn't wait to get outside. After some thinking I decided to go back to Ponkapoag pond bog. I was hoping to see animals and birds, woods and adventures and open skies. 

It started already in the parking lot. The spine and some bones from a deer. Every bit of tissue had been carefully gnawed off, probably by a number of creatures, each taking their turn. Somehow it was satisfying to see how nothing was left except the bare bones. No waste in nature - the matter that was once a deer is now transformed into other beings and life forms.

Then I marched through the woods down to the bog boardwalk area. 

The heavy planks were sometimes submerged in water, sometimes completely covered with icy snow. For a moment I wondered if this was perhaps not such a good idea, but I carefully went on and it got slightly better after the first red maple swamp area.

In the woody part of the bog grows mainly red maples and Atlantic white cedar trees. Highbush blueberry, swamp azalea and leatherleaf are also common.

It seemed that the bog was more colorful than the regular woods.

Trunks of white cedar. At the sound of a gentle chirp I turned my head and saw a brown creeper just four feet from my head at eye level. I also heard the calls of mourning doves.

Although dead deer is interesting in its own way, I'm glad to see traces of living ones as well.

Cedar twig

Colorful fungus

 Highbush blueberry have twigs both red and green.

Last time I visited the bog was in June. I remembered this clearing where the skies opened up and how happy that made me feel. It was the same yesterday.

The Atlantic white cedars often have Witches brooms on them, curious deformations of branches.

 The sphagnum moss were still a vivid mix of red and green.

Finally I reached the end of the boardwalk and could take in Ponkapoag pond. 

Sweetgale, maleberry and leatherleaf grew at the shore. 

It was while pondering the ID of this twig that I accidentally stepped outside of the snow covered planks and fell into the water with my right leg, up above my knee.

While drying up a bit I could enjoy the sky getting clear and the sun coming out. Somehow the sky is bluer here.

The sundried old planks soon sucked up a lot of water!

After I was back home and with dry socks on, I still wanted more outdoor time. A few days ago I witnessed three redtailed hawks soaring, clearly some territorial game going on, involving a mating couple and a hopeful intruder. Eventually the third one went its own way and the couple took off toward Shattuck hospital. I thought it would be nice to see them again and maybe even see where they are nesting. It took me through the park and back home again until I saw the same threesome game. Redtailed hawks soars on winds for minutes without a single wing flap.

In the park the little fresh water brook has already expanded and is covering a weedy lawn area.

I'm not happy to share this: dying hemlocks - only the very top is still alive. This is how it looks in Boston woods these days. I guess in a few years all of the Eastern hemlocks will be completely gone because of the Hemlock Woolly adelgid pest, an invasive little insect from Asia. It sucks the life out of majestic old trees and young ones alike in as little as 5 years, and only wealthy property owners and botanic parks seem to be able to pick up the tab for the treatment.

I also noted that the great horned owl seems to be at home in its pine grove, by judging from the fresh bone-fur mixes of pellets under the trees.