Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Foraging for wintergreen

Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens, is tiny evergreen shrub commonly
found in oak/pine forests. The berries have a lovely minty flavor, and
the leaves, when crushed, have a delightful wintergreen scent. Learn
more about the plant and how to make an alcohol extract with it here:
And while you're there, feel free to forage around my blog to see what
else is new. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Buck Rub on Utility Pole

I found this while out walking today and thought it was pretty bizarre.  Then I looked around on the Internet and discovered that it's not an uncommon thing for deer to do.  I guess bears aren't alone in finding poles like this to be attractive scent stations.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Natural History of New England’s Stone Walls

Next week, Robert Thorson (google him) will be speaking at the monthly meeting for the Friends of the Assabet River Wildlife Refuge in Stow, MA.  His books will tell you exactly what you are seeing in your walks through the New England woods.  I'll be there, Lars.

From their website:

Wednesday, November 20, 7:00 PM

November Monthly Meeting with Dr. Robert Thorson talking about The ‘Natural’ History of New England’s Stone Walls

Stone walls lie at the intersection of science and history, which became woven together during the transformation of wilderness into family farms. – Stone by Stone.
Stone walls mean many things to many people. They are pleasant surprises during many a New England ramble. They are the subject of poems and photo essays. To the human ecologist, stone walls associated with late colonial and Yankee farms are part of our "extended phenotype," displaying the history of our human interaction with the land. Professor Thorson will tell the story of their inevitability, of how they simply had to happen when a livestock-tillage economy was superimposed on a buried scatter of glacial stones. He will include a local focus as he discusses Thoreau's love for the iconic stone walls of the greater Concord River watershed and his prescient understanding of the creation story of the Assabet watershed: both topics of Thorson’s newly released book, “Walden’s Shore: Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth Century Science.”
Dr. Thorson’s books will be available for purchase starting at 6:30PM. Proceeds of these sales benefit the Friends of the Assabet River NWR. Books available will include “Exploring Stone Walls,” “Stone By Stone,” “Stone Wall Secrets,” “Beyond Walden: The Hidden History of America’s Kettle Lakes and Ponds.”
Robert Thorson is a professor at the University of Connecticut where he holds appointments in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, the Department of Anthropology, and the Center For Integrated Geosciences. Dr. Thorson has brought his enthusiasm for geology to fields as varied as History and Civil Engineering while teaching at universities from Alaska to Chile, where he was a senior Fulbright scholar. He is currently a visiting scholar in the American Studies program at Harvard University. His field work has included the U.S. Geological Survey and agencies ranging from the Japanese Ministry of Culture to the National Geographic Society. In 2002, he published “Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England's Stone Walls,” which became a regional bestseller and won the Connecticut Book Award for nonfiction. This began a decade of advocacy for the preservation of historic landscapes. More recently, Dr. Thorson has expanded his writings to another signature New England landform, kettleponds. Dr. Thorson is also an environmental columnist for the Hartford Courant.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Quabbin Black Bear

My wildlife camera captured this black bear walking across a rocky outcropping near Quabbin.

Do you think it's the same bear as this one, captured a few hundred yards away, earlier this year?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bobcat kittens playing

These two bobcat kittens were filmed play-fighting on a rocky outcrop near Quabbin Reservoir earlier this summer.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Witch hazel

Yesterday morning the fall blossoms of common witch hazel captured the light and my eyes. Fall blooming is quite rare among temperate forest plants, and Hamamelis virginiana probably evolved this unusual strategy to avoid competition for pollinators with its close relative, Ozark witch hazel, H. vernalis. Nonetheless, reproductive success of H. virginiana is quite low. Check out my blog to read more about this, and see more photos of flowers and fruit capsules.


Predators and Prey at Quabbin

A recent check of a wildlife camera near Quabbin Reservoir revealed
these video clips of a showshoe hare and several bobcats sharing the
same game trail.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Another Beat-Up Autumn Olive

I found my own mangled autumn olive bush while hiking today.  Though it was exciting to consider - for a brief moment - that it was the work of a bear, the damage was far less severe.  Even more telling, there wasn't a single berry anywhere around.  Once I noticed two huge scrapes nearby (both beneath overhanging branches) and the dogs sniffed out the easily-identifiable scat, I figured that the white-tailed deer rut must be starting.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Bear vs. Autumn Olive

These photos were taken in western Massachusetts by my sister.  Bear are an established presence in her area, and it looks like one of them decided to feast on the juicy autumn olive berries that are everywhere for the picking right now.  The scat found at the site was chock full of berry seeds.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Human sign on hickory nuts

I left my mark and secured my stash, like all the other animals.
Shagbark and pignut hickory nuts are great wild edibles, and there's
still time to get a few for yourself:


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hickory nuts: Which rodent(s)?

As I am not able to upload more than 1 or 2 photos per post on this blog, I'm posting just a portion of the story here, and directing you to my personal blog, where I've posted the entire thing with additional photos. I would love to hear your thoughts about which animal 1. created the pile of husks, 2. left the shells that have holes on both sides, and 3. left small shell fragments. Please see entire post here:
...and leave your thoughts in the comment section of that post.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Colorful Critters

Found this box turtle yesterday at the edge of some nearby woods. Not a very good picture, but it was pretty cool to come across one for the first time in years. (I didn't wait around for it to emerge from its shell; my little dog was way too interested.)  The beetle is a mystery. The colors and back pattern are striking. It's definitely in the category of small beetles (only 1/4 inch or so), but I had no luck determining its type.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Foraging for hazelnuts

There's still time to harvest wild hazelnuts, but not much. They should be picked when the nuts are beginning to turn brown, but the husks (or, more properly, the involucres) are still green. The cluster on the left is ripe enough for picking. The cluster on the right is riper, and some of the nuts have already fallen out. Don't wait that long - go searching now.

For details on how to identify and where to find wild hazelnuts, see my most recent wild edible post here:


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lug worm castings on the beach

We saw these coiled piles scattered on the beach along the east coast of Scotland a few days ago. Their appearance is reminiscent of earth worm castings, and I found out that they are indeed castings of a worm: the lug worm, Arenicola marina. Usually there is a blow hole a few inches away from each pile. The hole leads down to the mouth of the worm, which continually ingests sand, and digests the bacteria in the sand.  The sand particles are excreted as castings from the rear end of the worm, which sits just below the surface of the ground. The coin is about an inch in diameter

The odd thing about the castings we found was that there were no blow holes associated with them. I am told that this might be because the sand was too fluid (fine and wet), for the holes to persist. For some great photos of blow holes and castings in abundance, and some great information on this species, see:


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Striped Skunk Don't Care

A few days ago, I heard a loud buzzing in our yard and discovered a
ground nest of bees [wasps? other vicious stingy-thingies?] that had
been dug out and devoured, presumably by a skunk. The swarm was upset,
and I left them to rebuild what remained of their underground lair.

Today I peered into the hole, and found that the skunk had returned,
finished off what he had started, and left a pile of scat on top of
the shattered nest in the deepest part of the hole. That's quite a

Striped skunks are the honey badgers of suburbia.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bears & More

I am posting this on the off-chance that not all of you have seen this highly-publicized and very entertaining video: 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Quabbin Bear Video

This black bear wandered in front of a remote camera near the Quabbin
reservoir, earlier this June.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hairy-tailed mole

I saw this little critter a few mornings ago while out walking in Bolton, MA. The hairy-tailed mole, Parascalops breweri, is one of 3 mole species found here. It prefers dry, loose soil in wooded or open habitat. Check out this video of this mole after it ran to the other side of the road and attempted to tunnel to safety:

The other two species are the eastern mole, which looks similar but has a naked tail, and the star-nosed mole, which has a longer hairy tail and tentacles on its nose. The latter species lives in wet areas and is semi-aquatic.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Also from Welch Pond Bog in Bolton, MA. Little jewels of round-leaved (I believe) sundews, Drosera rotundifolia. Insects stick to the glandular hairs, then the hairs wrap around the prey. These plants are apparently known to attract distinct insect species for food and for pollination, with little overlap. And, while carnivory results in better seed production, the plant can reproduce in the absence of either prey or pollinators, by tubers, axillary buds, or leaf buds.

Pitcher plants

From Welch Pond Bog in Bolton, MA. The first photo shows a rosette of pitcher plant leaves, which are fused to form a water holding vessel (the pitchers). The bright red venation and nectar glands on these leaves attract insect prey, and the downward pointing hairs on the insides of the leaves encourage descent of prey into the depths, where they are digested. Like other carnivorous plants, the pitcher plant does photosynthesize, and carnivory is not required for its survival. It does, however, help the plant grow larger and reproduce better.

I've read that coloration is determined by sun exposure, with greater sun exposure resulting in more red and shadier conditions resulting in more green. But that cannot be the whole story, because some rosettes had both red and green pitchers. Perhaps age of leaf matters. In this rosette, the younger looking leaf on the left is greener.

The second photo shows a blooming pitcher plant rosette. This one also has both red and green leaves. Pollination by insects is required for reproduction, which would seem to put the plant in an interesting bind. Are the insect species which pollinate this plant also attracted to the pitchers, or do they avoid them for some reason. It doesn't seem to be a good idea to kill your pollinating resources, but I suppose we humans do that too, and we've been pretty successful. Perhaps it's a good thing the pitcher plant does not reproduce well without eating insects. If it eats too many insects then it won't reproduce as well, resulting in fewer pitcher plants and recovering local insect populations.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Mystery wetland photo of a different sort

What happened here? Came upon this very interesting scene yesterday in a pond in Shirley, MA (in an old flooded cranberry bog). 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Mystery Plant

This was photographed yesterday in a bog habitat in Bolton, MA. Anyone
want to take a stab at it?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Horny Toad Happening

This spring's bufo orgy is in full swing down at the pond.  The loud music is the first clue that there's quite a party going on.  The trilling of hundreds of males can be heard from quite a distance away.  The first photo shows one of them floating around on a small log, inflating its neck and singing its tune.  A herpetologist once told me that the males are in such a frenzy during these gatherings that they'd try to mate with a doorknob if you lowered it into the water.  The female in the second picture would likely welcome the distraction of a doorknob, and maybe even find it more appealing that the clingy males that are hanging on to her for dear life.  The third photo shows a couple of toads approaching a snake that was lolling about.  When one of them got too close, the snake quickly swam to the pond's edge and hid itself among the reeds.

Scat I.D.

Anyone care to take a stab at identifying this scat?  It was plop in the middle of a rough upland trail through mixed woods.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Snakes on the Lane

Discovered along a wooded trail yesterday, these garter snakes appear to have the same thing in mind.  I don't know if three is enough to constitute what is known as a "breeding ball," but either way, it's a sure sign of spring.  My uneducated guess is that the big one is female.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Red-breasted nuthatch

Nuthatches and woodpeckers are my favorite birds. Here's a very
cooperative red-breasted nuthatch that I encountered yesterday, while
walking on the road.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Otter Slides and Fishy Coyote

Lars was out on Flagg Hill Pond, Stow MA skiing this morning.  I found a long otter trail going over the ice and then returning, leaving many otter slides. A coyote track followed the trail.  The otter trail went to a beaver lodge, ducked under the ice, caught a fish, ate it on the shoulder of the lodge (second photo), and left.  Not 50 feet away, I found the coyote trail widen into a roll site, with the tasty fish head the coyote found. Just had to roll in it....

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tunnel and Trail

Which mustelid is this? Mink?  Taken on Flagg Hill Pond in Heath Hen Meadow 3 days ago.

Squeezing Fisher

Lars followed a meandering fisher track in Heath Hen Meadow, Stow, and found a tight spot where he had to squeeze under a fallen branch.

Orchard happening

I was also out this morning in a Bolton orchard and indeed it was spectacular. I found the scene below along the edge of a trail that winds through the orchard. The first two pictures comprise the two halves of the area in question (right and left). There were no other tracks leading to or away from this area. The third picture includes my pole for scale.

This is a close up of the upper right corner of the scene (wings)
 This is a close up of the middle of the area. If you look closely you can see several tracks that look more like hawk than owl.