Thursday, July 21, 2011


Janet writes: Here is another one from my Archive of Oddities, since we
seem to be straying well away from animal tracking these days. Why does
this white oak appear to be engulfing a boulder? It looks like it has
gone out of its way to grow around the rock. What could account for
this? Is it after some mineral? Found at the Ralph Hill Homestead
Reservation in Billerica.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sacred Stones or Accidental Alignment?

If Lars can post pictures of corn mounds, I figure I can post some
photos of rock piles. I hope the photos show up in the order I
intended. If so, the first two are from Half Moon Meadow in Boxborough,
and the 3rd is from Brown Woods in Framingham.

Half Moon Meadow a is several acre field with a stone wall around its
periphery. Both of the photos are of large, unusual stones within the
rock wall surrounding the meadow. If you stand on the stone slab in the
2nd photo, you are perfectly positioned to look across the field and
observe the solstice sunrise through the V shaped notch in the stone in
the 1st photo. This alignment has led to the idea that Half Moon Meadow
may be a sacred, ceremonial Native American site. However, the stones
are part of a stone wall, and we know that colonial farmers built many
miles of those. Were the stones carefully moved and aligned by Native
Americans and then left in place when the stone wall was built by
colonial farmers? Or did colonial farmers intentionally place them for
observation of the solstice sunrise? Or was one or both of them moved
by a glacier, with alignment occurring by chance? (A local geologist
confirmed that neither of them is bedrock: they were indeed moved, but
the mover could have been either human or glacial.)

Sacred or accidental? Consider that there are 250,000 miles of stone
walls in New England, and the position of the sunrise varies by only 50
degrees throughout the year. How improbable would it be for something
like this to occur by chance?

It has also been proposed that the Stone with the V shaped notch
represents a person or animal lying down. Hmm. And then there are the
mounds of small stones located outside the meadow, that have been said
to represent the turtle, an animal thought to be of religious
significance to Native Americans.

I did not get a good photo of the mounds outside of Half Moon Meadow so
I posted one from elsewhere The 3rd photo is a mound of small stones
from Brown Woods conservation area. As you can see, it is right up
against a stone wall. Piles like this can often be found near plots
that were once used as cropland. Tom Wessels suggests that farmers
removed even small stones from soil that was to be plowed every year, to
make it easier to turn the soil. These small stones were sometimes used
with larger ones to build walls, or simply tossed into piles in a corner
or edge of a stone wall, or some other out of the way place. To me,
this is a more appealing explanation for the piles of small stones
around Half Moon Meadow....But you never know...

Corn Hills

I have included photos from two different areas. These photos show historical evidence of Native American "corn hills." The first photo is from Sarah Doublet Forest (Littleton Conservation Trust, MA), which lies within the area of the original Nashobah Indian Praying Village. It was the sixth of seven areas in Massachusetts set aside in the late 1600s in an attempt to "Christianize" local Native Americans. Sarah Doublet was an American Indian thought to have started one of the earliest apple orchards in the area. One can still find Nagog Hill Orchards in this area, sitting between Fort Pond and Nagog Pond. These woods are beautiful.

The latter photos are from Estabrook Woods in Concord, MA, just behind (east of) Middlesex School. There has been a long struggle between conservationists and the school regarding the school's recent expansion for sports fields, because the corn hills lie so close to this area.

Here is an excerpt from an old article:
From American Anthropologist "Indian Corn-Hills in Massachusetts," Delabarre and Wilder, July 1920.

"Although the cultivation of corn (maize) by the aborigines of the West Indies was observed and reported by the earliest of the discoverers, probably Samuel de Champlain was the first to give any account of this form of agriculture in New England. His first recorded observation was made during his voyage of the summer of 1605, at or near what is now Saco, Maine, his "ChoƩacoet." He writes:

“The next day [July 9, 1605] Sieur de Monts and I landed to observe their tillage on the bank of the river [Saco river]. We saw their Indian corn, which they raise in gardens. Planting three or four kernels in one place, they then heap about it a quantity of earth with shells of the signoc before mentioned [the horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus]. Then three feet distant they plant as much more, and thus in succession. With this corn they put in each hill three or four Brazilian beans [the kidney bean, Phaseolus vulgaris], which are of different colors. When they grow up, they interlace with the corn, which reaches to the height of from five to six feet; and they keep the ground very free from weeds. We saw there many squashes, and pumpkins, and tobacco, which they likewise cultivate. The Indian corn which we saw was at that time about two feet high, some of it as high as three. The beans were beginning to flower, as also the pumpkins and squashes. They plant their corn in May, and gather it in September.” "

I thought you'd like pictures of snow with our impending heat wave. The snow accentuates these remnants of the land.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tale of a Wittle Wet Wabbit

As I was watering a drooping hydrangea at the edge of my woods last evening, I noticed a movement at the base of the plant. Apparently this rabbit kitten was not grateful for the unexpected shower. It allowed me to snap a couple of photos before it tucked itself in again on the other side of the hydrangea.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Goldenrod Crab Spider

Janet posts for Bob Z, who noticed a large butterfly grounded in our vegetable garden.  A closer look revealed why this tiger swallowtail would fly no more.  The spider is Misumena vatia, I think.  It does not spin a web.  Instead, it waits at flowers, ready to grasp unsuspecting insect visitors, such as this butterfly.

Indian Pipe vs Pinesap

This is in response to Janet's post of June 27th. These are photos of two related species, Monotropa uniflora ("Indian Pipe") and Monotropa hypopithys ("pinesap"). These photos are from Marble Hill Conservation Area in Stow, MA in 2009. It is unusual to find the less common pinesap. I have found some previously in Estabrook Woods in Concord. I had found two locations in Marble Hill where they grew. I looked for them last summer, but it was too dry. Both species are parasitic, so they grow without chlorophyll and can live in low light. I'll be looking for them again in this season to reemerge.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mystery Track

Another submission in the great Mystery Track Challenge! Lars' only clue for you was that I photographed these tracks yesterday in Holyoke, MA in the Connecticut River Valley. What species?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bug tracking workshop with Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney - Sat, July 30

Join BEAT and Project Native for a fascinating, entertaining, and
informative workshop with Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney to learn
about local insects and other invertebrates and the signs they leave
while exploring Project Native's 54-acre farm. They are offering two
workshops on Saturday, July 30th - one beginning at 10:30 am, and the
second beginning at 1:30 pm. The cost for the workshop is $30.

Learn more at

Daytime fisher video - Stow, MA

After Janet tipped me off about a road-killed deer at SVT's Herene
Reservation in Stow, I placed a motion-sensing video camera near the
carcass to see what animals came to investigate. This small fisher
sniffed around at the bones before bounding up onto a log and out of sight.


Culinary Quiz

- Had a terrific dinner last weekend at the Herb Lyceum in Groton. The cheese course featured an unusual garnish. Take a guess what wild edible sits atop that little dollop of chevre at the end of the fork.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Common milkweed and some visitors

Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, is my all time favorite wildflower.  The flowers are beautiful, the plant is always teeming with insect life, and different parts of the plant are edible (cooked) in different parts of the season (the spring shoots being my favorite).  What a shame that so many people see it as a weed and pull it out.

The photo of an umbel shows some flowers pink and others already yellowing.  I've noticed that pollinating insects seem to visit only the pink ones.  I don't know if the yellow ones are those that have been pollinated, or those that are withering, whether successfully pollinated or not.  I suspect the latter, since I've read that few flowers in each umbel are successfully pollinated.  I don't know what kind of insect that is on the umbel.

Bumble bees (Megabombus spp.), don't seem as attracted to milkweed as honey bees, but this one rested for quite awhile on that one flower yesterday morning, before flying off.  I don't really have a favorite insect, but Megabombus is definitely my favorite genus name.  Click on the photo and look at those hairs.  Insect hair differs from mammalian hair in composition:  Hair of the former is a polysaccharide called chitin, and that of the latter is a protein called keratin.

The two milkweed beetles, Tetraopes tetraophthamus, are embarking on the well worn path of passion to progeny.  this beetle feeds on milkweed, and advertises its distastefulness with bright coloration like the monarch butterfly, whose larvae also feed on milkweed.

For a spectacular photo tour of the life cycle of common milkweed, see:
The close-ups at that link are amazing.  Also some great info - Hope you check it out

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tracking Quiz: Skull

Janet writes: Upon our arrival at my in-laws house in Maine last
weekend, my mother-in-law sent me out to a piece of property with
instructions to find "something rare" to stop development. She recalled
playing there among lady slippers and other less than ubiquitous
wildflowers, as a child. There were indeed some interesting
wildflowers, though none of them rare.

The skull in the above photo was on the forest floor at the base of a
cliff. I noticed the gleaming white brain case from a distance, and
thought it was some kind of mushroom. I'm glad I went over to confirm.

With delicate bones still intact, it may be a rare find, but the species
is not rare. Can you identify it?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Coyote, skunk, and otters on a Delaney game trail

I found a decomposing muskrat carcass on a game trail at the Delaney
Project, and put out a Moultrie M-80 camera in video mode to capture any
wildlife that came to check it out. This is a great little camera!

You can watch the full video here:

More recent sightings from Delaney are at

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Toxic Newts and Dwarf Pitch Pines

Lars spent the weekend in the Berkshires in Western Mass, in Mt Washington State Park. We went to see Bash Bish Falls and on the way down the trail found an immature Eastern Newt (both pictured above). From a USGS website:

The Eastern Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens, and its close relative the Striped Newt, N. perstriatus are unique in that they undergo two metamorphoses. The first is the usual transformation from aquatic, gilled larva to an air-breathing terrestrial form. However in these two species there is a second, less striking metamorphosis to a breeding aquatic adult. The sexually immature land phase is usually called an Eft. The Eft stage may last anywhere from 1-7 years. The skin of the Eft is toxic and their bright coloration serves as a warning - it is not so rare to find an Eft wandering about in broad daylight after rain.

It was in broad daylight in the rain. Good thing I didn't touch (or eat) it.

Then off to nearby Mt. Everett at 2,600 ft to find a community of dwarf pitch pines. This is a rare example of this type of old growth forest in New England. By core sampling studies, these trees range from 12 to 170 years old, despite most being less than 3 meters high. Other mixed, dwarfed hardwoods include Red Oak, Red Maple and Birch. What a beautiful place! It's a natural bonsai garden on the Appalachian Trail.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Partridge Berry

Janet writes: Partridge berry, Mitchella repens, has finished blooming here in Mass, but was in full bloom in Maine this past weekend.  As you can see in the photo, the tiny white flowers of this trailing ground cover come in pairs.  The twin flowers fuse, giving rise to only one berry, and the two spots that can be seen on each berry (see the single red berry in this photo) are vestiges of this process.

The berries are food for a variety of birds and mammals.  Humans can eat them, but describe them as bland and seedy.  I have yet to sample them.  It is said that native Americans used the leaves to treat pain during childbirth, hence one of its common names: squaw vine.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Swamp azalea

Janet writes:  Lately I have been looking closely at plants of all kinds, and noticing how common "hairs" are on various structures: twigs, buds, leaves, stems, and flowers.  These hairs are quite different from those on the skin of most mammals.  More accurately called trichomes, plant hairs have many functions.  They may deter herbivores, guide the path of pollinators, or affect photosynthesis, leaf temperature, or water loss.  Some trichomes have glands which store and secrete chemicals that interact with herbivores or pollinators.

In the photos you see swamp azalea, Rhododendron viscosum, (found at the edge of a pond in Sudbury, MA), the buds of which are equipped with secretory glands on their tips.   If you click on the photo you should be able to see the tiny, rust colored glands on the tips of the "hairs".  I have not been about to find out exactly what their function is, but I am guessing from the species name "viscosum", that they secrete sticky substance which may help deter herbivores.