Weather at Bedford, Hanscom Field, MA - via NOAA's National Weather Service

Thursday, May 28, 2009


It's been very busy around here, but fortunately the dog still needs walks, so I've been getting out a little. Here are a couple of bug pics - critters that I got a good look at.

A crane fly

and an eastern tent caterpillar

I also heard and got a good look at a chipping sparrow up on the power lines.

And here is some goatsbeard, just because it is pretty.

Monday, May 25, 2009

early Memorial Day

Memorial day was early this year - May 25. BUT I got a swim in when we went up to Long Lake in Maine to open up my mother-in-law's house for the summer. Definitely chilly, but well worth it.
I saw my first dragonfly of the season - don't know what kind; big and brown. Found a red-backed salamander under some leaves, and a small American toad as well. The leaves aren't as far out as they are down here.
And this morning on my walk I DID have my binocs when I heard the rose-breasted grosbeak. And I heard and saw another common yellowthroat. My ears are getting better at IDing birds. And I saw a bird that I have not yet been able to identify. It was mostly black, with some orange near its throat and tail, and three white marks, dots almost, on its wing. Its call was a rising "tseeeeeeet" and it was about the size of a titmouse. The eyes were black. It was not a towhee, though the colors were the same - just in a different pattern. Another mystery to work on...
And I saw a hummingbird moth for the first time today. It was really cool. Drinking from my pink rhododendron flowers, it hung around long enough for me to get a good look at it. It looks a little like a bee, and a lot like a small hummingbird, except that it has long antennae.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

dispatch from "out west"

My aunt Nan sent me this. Thank you!

BEAVER DAM in Bolton Massachusetts on conservation land.
Beaver lodge in pond beyond stone wall.

Here a new meadow will someday blossom with wildflowers thanks to the industry of these wetland specialists. In the meantime new wildlife habitat will be created from re-growth woodlands abandoned by the overuse of human activity. The pond will retain moisture and nutrients while leaching out pollutants. The trees that die in the pond will provided nesting sites for woodpeckers including the pileated woodpecker, a shy resident of Bolton. Then wood ducks and other hole nesters will arrive. This is prime habitat for great blue herons and other herons, including the green heron which has struggled for habitat since coyotes have intruded into this domain. Beaver dams create ponds that are essential in the cycle of the evolution of the New England environment.

We do have beavers in my town, but not where I can easily view them.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

more new things

I saw what I think was a rose-breasted grosbeak today (my first, to my recollection, though I remember my mother talking about them when I was young). As so often happens to me, I heard a lovely song high up in a tree. It wasn't quite a robin, nor quite an oriole, and I finally spied it. I didn't have my binocs, but I don't think it could have been anything but the grosbeak. After I checked my bird guides at home, I went back later with binocs, but it had moved over into somebody's yard, and I didn't feel like trespassing. Maybe I'll see it again another day, now that I know where to listen for it.
I also saw the indigo bunting again.

And a new flower for me. I was with my son and some of his classmates on a "big back yard" walk from the school, and I spotted this beauty. I don't recall ever seeing it before, no surprise given its tiny size. Anyway, I took some cell phone pics to ID it, and went back later with a real camera. The plant is fringed polygala, also called gaywings. The ones I saw had already started to wilt, but were still very pretty. I love learning new plants!

The other thing I've been wondering about, is my robin. I have not seen her on the nest for some time now. I don't know if something happened to her, if something happened to the eggs (we do have plenty of blue jays around, who will steal eggs for lunch), or if they hatched and fledged already.
I've also been hearing one robin in my yard singing away even when all the other robins have quieted down, later in the morning or in the afternoon, before the evening sing. I wonder if this is Mr. and he is seeking a new mate. Even if the first brood has fledged, I would think they would be working on a second - they will use the same nest. So it is a mystery, and one that may never be solved, I suppose.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

always something new

Lots of good stuff today....
I found a wasp on my kitchen floor the other day. Fortunately for me, it was already dead. My family thought I was nuts, but I saved it. AND I was able, with some help from a co-worker, to identify it. It was an eastern yellow jacket (I'm really glad it was dead - I don't like getting stung), but what, to me, was interesting was that it was a queen. I had looked in my bug ID guides, and didn't find anything that was quite right. Susan at work had a book with a photo of a western yellow jacket, so I googled eastern yellow jacket - et voila, showed me what it was.

In other news, I've found two "new" creatures in my yard in the past couple of days. I'm sure that they are not really new, only that I have never seen them before. The first was what turned out to be an eastern milk snake. I have a small stone retaining wall at the front of my house, and lots of garter snakes are often seen there. At least one chipmunk lives in the wall also. Anyway, I heard a rustling in the leaves and peeked over to see what might be making the noise. It was a snake, but not one of the ones I usually see, which are blackish, with yellow stripes. This one was brown with lighter and darker patterning - I'd never seen one like it here. I meant to look it up, but got distracted (that happens a lot). At work today I was getting ready to do a program with one of our corn snakes, and there in a box was a milk snake that had been smushed, poor thing. At least we can thank it for its use in education.

And I saw a common yellowthroat this morning, for the first time. I heard a loud, unfamiliar song in my rhododendrons this morning. I followed the voice, and before long I saw a little grayish bird with a yellow throat and an unmistakable black eye patch. Given its physical appearance, the thought that it was a common yellowthroat came to me immediately, and a quick reference to a couple of bird guides confirmed my idea. I don't consider myself a "birder", by which I mean someone who goes out specifically looking for birds, but I do like to be able to identify the birds I do see. And I don't keep a list - life, year, or otherwise - but I am beginning to understand why it might be fun for some people to do so. It is very satisfying to feel that I now have another bird in my personal, mental ID guide. I'm a very visual learner, and once I've seen the bird for real, I can usually remember what it is. Now keeping track of bird songs and calls is another matter....

And the last piece for today is bloomin' lady slippers! They were everywhere today.

Monday, May 18, 2009

little white flowers

Here is some sweet woodruff that grows in my yard - looks sweet, smells sweet... (center of image)
the other flower in the picture is Canada mayflower (lower left)

And here is a pic of those holly flowers I saw yesterday...
you can see the berries forming already.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

lots of birds...

I have crowds of robins singing around my house, and I got to watch two blue jays collecting twigs for their nest yesterday. I have wrens, red winged blackbirds and phoebes around as well. And cardinals, and hummingbirds. And this morning on my walk I saw what I think was a prarie warbler - a high-pitched, rising note caught my ear, and I was able to find a bright yellow bird with a grayish tail in some bushes nearby. That was after the towhee's song helped me find it. I heard the chipping sparrow, I think, but never saw it. And another bird, maybe an alder flycatcher, was singing "chuk-chi" high up in a tree nearby. I saw that one, but not clearly enough to ID it for sure. I'm hoping that by following up on these songs, I can learn more birds. If I can find them and see them, I am more likely to remember the song and know who sings that tune, next time. Of course, some birds, like the titmouse, have many different notes, calls, songs - vocalizations. So the best I can do is try to track down the song and look at the bird. I'm much more visual than aural. But it sure it fun looking for and at birds.
I saw holly flowers today - the first time I ever noticed them (and I didn't have my camera!). They are tiny little white blossoms; easy to miss, if you don't think to look.

Friday, May 15, 2009

great blue heron

My friend Deb took these photos when we visited the heron rookery the other day.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

heron rookery

I went today with two friends from work to see a heron rookery. The great blue heron is a beautiful big bird, and it was really neat to see a few dozen nests, high up in trees in a big swamp. We could see beaver-gnawed stumps at the edge of the water, but they had clearly been worked on some time ago. Unfortunately, I did not have my good binoculars with me, but I had a pair of old opera glasses that I keep on me for just such "emergencies" and they were better than nothing. One of my friends had a better pair of binocs, and the other had a camera with a good zoom lens, so we were able to get some good sightings. We could see the parents flying to and from the nests, and we got an occasional glimpse of a chick's head. So cool! If Deb got some good photos, maybe she'll let me post them here.
Other interesting bits - literally. Outside my old back door is an old-fashioned garbage bin; a concrete cistern with a cast-iron top and a bucket inside. I don't use it much - I tried it one winter when my usual compost was frozen solid, but the raccoons figured out how to get into it pretty easily, and made a mess. Anyway, on top of this garbage bin I saw a few bits of bumblebee! Somebody must have been snacking and forgot to clean up the leftovers - or maybe they were planning to compost them, but couldn't get the top open (it's rather heavy).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

blue and red

I saw an indigo bunting on my walk this afternoon! Now that is a beautiful bird. I also saw a small hawk with something in its talons fly into a thick stand of pine. After it got into the pines I couldn't see it any more, nor could I find it, so couldn't ID it.
And here's a pic of my hummingbird feeder - I doubt I'll be able to get any pics of birds there, but you never know....


Hummingbirds at the feeder this morning! We saw two. And I thought I'd never get them...

Monday, May 11, 2009

pretty things

There have been too many things going on for me to spend much time observing properly, but life goes on. I got a hummingbird feeder for mothers' day, which is now hanging in the yard. I have always thought that my yard is too wooded to attract hummers, but a colleague convinced me that it was worth a try. I hung a big pot of pink petunias next to it, to add a little more attractive color. We'll see what happens.
I have been seeing and/or hearing orioles almost every day for the past week or so. I wonder if there are more around this year, or if I am just more aware of them.
Here are some photos of pretty things I've seen recently.
The jack-in-the-pulpit is in my yard. I have them all over the place - small ones and big ones - and here is a cool fact about them. When they are young, the flowers on the spadix (jack) are mostly male, and as the plant gets older, more and more of the flowers are female. See, the spadix - the part inside the striped spathe (pulpit) - is covered in tiny flowers, both male and female. The proportions of male to female flowers alter with age. Cool, hunh?
There are lady slippers scattered throughout the woods behind my house. Sometimes all I see are the leaves, but today I saw this beautifully formed bud. These flowers are very hard to grow and to transplant, and some species are endangered, so don't ever pick them.
This tiger beetle caught my eye because of its exceptional color. It was hanging out among the dead brown leaves on the forest floor, so it showed up quite well. When it saw me looking at it, it went down under the leaves, but I managed to gently uncover it to get this photo, so I could ID it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

nursery rhyme?

I suppose it is silly, but I thought up this spoof of a nursery rhyme as I was working on IDing trees. I try to keep working on learning new subjects, and now I'm trying to learn more about identifying trees. It's not easy, on many of them. I have a few ID guides, which help, and I can generally get to genus, but species can be tricky. For instance, I cannot tell you what kind of hickory trees these are, but I do know that they are not shagbark. They might be bitternut or pignut. Here's some info I found at the Virginia Department of Forestry website: Early settlers named the species "pignut" because their hogs loved to eat the nuts. A related species, red hickory (Carya ovalis) differs from pignut hickory by slight differences in the fruit and bark. Many hickories hybridize with each other, making exact identification difficult even for experts. So now I don't feel so bad!
About the dock plant, here's a funny, sweet, story. Several years ago, we put an addition on our house. In replanting the yard after the construction, I was moving several plants to more auspicious locations. My son, who was about five years old at the time, found a dock plant that he was insistent on moving. I was trying to work on the cultivated plants, and some wild ones that I really liked, but he dug up this dock and we moved it. What can I say? Children are not clones of our selves. Last I checked, his dock was well and happy.
This is not burdock, by the way, which is probably the most well-known dock, at least around here. I'm not sure which this one is, and there are about 200 species. The one in my photo does not have burs that are impossible to get out of your socks or your dog's hair.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

high energy bird

I spent quite a while watching a carolina wren this afternoon. They are adorable, noisy little birds, that hardly ever stop moving. They will build several nests, and then choose one in which to raise their brood. They are hardly afraid of people at all. We had one pair nest on our front deck one year. Another time I pulled nest material out of our gutter - I didn't want them to decide to use that one and lose the family to a rainstorm. Wrens have incredibly loud voices, which is what got my attention this afternoon. The little guy - could have been a gal... - was flittering all around; up in the trees, down on the ground, checking out a hole in a tree for nesting. I can hear one right now! The coolest thing I watched him do was to hop around on the ground turning over leaves looking for bugs to eat, chattering all the while. He'd pick up leaves bigger than himself, and smack his beak happily if he found something. I haven't found any nests yet this spring, but I'll keep my eye out for any that might be around. We have quite a bit of good habitat for this type of critter.
Also saw a big red-tail hawk land in the sentinel pine behind my house this afternoon.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Just a couple of photos today - wood anemone and rue anemone. The flowers are very similar, but the leaves are distinctly different. The wood anemone leaf is serrated, while the rue anemone leaf is lobed. The wood anemone photo has the violet growing with it.

Pretty wet and rainy today - unseasonably cool.

Monday, May 4, 2009


So much is happening so fast around here, I can't even keep track of it all. My stream, which babbles along merrily all winter, even under the ice, is fast becoming obscured from view as the skunk cabbages, ferns, and other wetland plants grow inches each day. I just love seeing the ferns unfurl, a little more each day. I still remember my grandfather sending us out to collect bracken fern to burn on summer evenings to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
Let's see - the mayapple is up, but I don't think it is blooming quite yet. The red baneberry is blooming. My dogwood blooms are turning white. The pine pollen is beginning to coat everything in a haze of yellow dust. The lady slippers are sprouting. I've seen orioles twice since I reported on it the other day. Those birds have such a lovely clear song, and such bright coloring. It is not nearly as good at the real thing, but this site has a quick video of an oriole. The black cohosh is growing, and my daylilies are getting taller by the minute. A few plants I bought last fall, when our local nursery was closing { : ( } seem to be doing well - a columbine, a goatsbeard, and a purple coneflower. I have both high- and lowbush blueberries, and see lots of blossoms on those.
I saw a cottontail when I was bringing in my laundry this afternoon, and my neighbor left a message on my machine that she had just seen a fisher walking along the stone wall that runs behind our houses. As I write this, I'm listening to a robin sing. I'm not really religious, but "all God's critters got a place in the choir" is one of my favorite songs, and I love how all those critters, and plants too, fit together and how the whole world works - as long as us big noisy stinky critters don't get in the way and mess it up too much!

Just to show how fast ferns can grow this time of year.... The first photo was taken 4/27/09 and the second 4/29/09. That oak leaf at the base of the clump should assure you that these are indeed photos of the same ferns. You'll have to take my word on the dates the pics were taken.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Baltimore oriole

I saw my first Baltimore oriole of the season this morning. I heard it singing, but wasn't sure, and then it flew - a bright orange male - up into a tree near where I was walking. So beautiful!

I forgot to mention that I saw a towhee the other day - I got distracted by the goldfinch nest.

Here is a photo of Mama Robin sitting on her nest.

Here's another pic, of wild sarsaparilla, a plant that disguises itself like poison ivy when it is young. But if you look closely, you'll see that the leaf stalk has five leaves on it, not three.