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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Who lives here?

Here are some photos I took on a walk a few days ago. I was intrigued by the moss covered stump, as it made a lovely sculpture all on its own, and the spring weather has greened up the moss to an incredible color. So I'm looking around, marveling at the colors and different textures of what is, essentially, a rotten piece of wood. But it is beautiful!
And then I notice that I am not the only one who likes it. Take a look at the little holes. One has a "doormat" of seed casings, and the other is somewhat obscured by leaves. Looks like a cozy little cottage to me. Wouldn't it be the perfect little place for fairies or elves or gnomes? In reality I'm thinking small rodents - mice, chipmunks, et cetera - but it is easy to imagine something rarer.
Mother Nature has figured out how to make sure that nothing goes to waste.
An interesting book to read, if you are at all interested in what was in the forest before you got there, is Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England by Tom Wessels. He has all sorts of knowledge about how trees grow, and how forests progress. He can walk into a forest and figure out what came before - when it might have been logged, what kind of farming was happening there, and more.

Monday, March 30, 2009

almost April showers

Rain, rain, and more rain today, but the deer did come to visit - four of them, in fact. And lots of birds at the feeders, too.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring Nighttime

I went for a walk to some nearby vernal pools this evening, looking for salamanders and/or wood frogs, which migrate from their upland winter homes on warm rainy spring nights. They head back to their natal ponds to breed and begin the next generation. This was my first time out trying to do this, and I will admit that I saw neither wood frogs nor salamanders of any sort. Maybe it was a little too cold this evening, since it was just 40ºF by my thermometer when I left my house, and it usually needs to be that or warmer. Maybe I just didn't know where to look - I'll have to ask around to see if anyone else has seen migrating amphibians in that area.
But I did get to hear a wonderful chorus of spring peepers in the wetland (and if you click on that link, you can get to a recording of what they sound like). As long as I can remember, the sound of spring peepers has been one of my springtime markers. Unlike wood frogs and some salamanders, peepers do not need vernal pools to reproduce, but they do need water and will use vernal pools. The lack of fish in such water bodies is an advantage to these small frogs, as fish will prey on peepers.
Cool (literal) fact about wood frogs: they freeze solid in the winter, and thaw out when spring comes. How's that for energy conservation?!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

for real

Spring was really here today, and as it is now the end of March, I think it might be for real. On a walk this morning I saw lots of worm castings - the small piles of processed soil that earthworms deposit at the soil surface. If the worms are coming up, the weather is warming up.
And what a gorgeous day! It started gray, but became sunny and warm, with a lovely springtime breeze - the kind of breeze that blows in a new growing season. I'm not sure what the high temp was today because I was outside all day with no thermometer in sight, but I was down to two shirts - quite a feat for me.
An interesting observation - I heard some chattering above my head today, and looked up to see two crows sitting on a barn roof chatting. Eventually they flew off, and came back a little later with a pal (I'm assuming it was the same two original birds, plus one). They sat up there chatting for quite a while - probably enjoying the sunshine. A cousin of mine, a bird biologist, says that corvids are some of the smartest birds out there. I wonder what the birds were talking about? (The photo above is of a raven we saw in Utah in April 2008)
AND for the second time this spring I thought I heard a towhee this morning, but my birding ears are poor, and I was not able to see the bird, so I couldn't confirm it. But when the towhees come back, it is another lovely sign of spring.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

note to self

Just took up some marsh marigolds from the brook behind Jake's house and put them into our stream to increase our population. Found those I transplanted 2 years ago to be coming up here.


I've just noticed that my shadbush buds are beginning to swell. This is a definite sign of spring.
Here are some photos - sorry I'm not a better photographer - of my bush and some of the buds. Legend has it that when these bushes bloom, the shad (fish) start running and it is time to go fishing.

early morning

For the first time this spring, I heard birds before my alarm went off - which means it is getting light earlier, which means that getting out of bed will get easier. I love to wake to the chorus of robins as the day breaks. There are lots of birds around here that sing, and I enjoy them all, but somehow, that sunrise song that the robins sing makes it seem as though the whole forest is full of them. I don't understand how these small creatures can make such large and lovely sounds.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

still a lion

I'm not really very happy that the weather is as chilly as it is - I'm definitely ready for some warm spring weather - but aren't these ice crystals neat to look at? Mother Nature has a lot of magic tricks, but ice is, or can be, one of the most artistic. I know we are all carbon-based, and we could not survive without the sun, but water is my favorite element. I s'pose that's part of why we live by a stream - and maybe that's my piscean birth sign coming through, though I tend to be skeptical of such philosophies. Anyway, we all need water, so let's keep it clean and not waste it!

Monday, March 23, 2009

still winter?

It sure didn't seem like spring today. I think the high temp was about 34ºF. Not exactly warm, in my book. I didn't get out as much as I would have liked today. I visited my 94-year-old grandmother, and it seemed too cold and windy to take her outside. She likes birds too - she has a couple feeders on her balcony on the 5th floor of her building, which overlooks the Sudbury River. It is kind of neat up there, because you are pretty much at the tops of the trees, looking over them. She feeds all year round, because she likes to watch the birds. I usually stop feeding about the first of spring, but it has been so cold this year that I even went and bought more seed. I still have my usual chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, goldfinches, siskins, nuthatches, et cetera, but they have been joined by red-winged blackbirds back from their winter homes. It is supposed to warm up as the week goes on - I sure hope so!
I was watching birds at my feeder the other day when an eastern cottontail rabbit hopped out of the rhododendrons onto my path. I hadn't seen it for a while, so it is good to know it is still around.
I've also been seeing sparrows the past few days, that are probably song sparrows, but could be fox sparrows. I've looked in several books and online and all the images are different. Fox sparrows are less likely to be in this region, while song sparrows are relatively common around here.
Another neat image - I wish I'd been in position with a camera when I saw it - two squirrels, one red, one gray, sitting on the same branch, in the same position, about three feet apart. Probably waiting for birds to drop seed from the feeder.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What a way to start the day

This morning I saw one of the most ordinary, yet most lovely, sights. Picture a meadow, surrounded by woods, with a few trees and shrubs scattered around the meadow. Some of the trees are cedars, so are green, but some are deciduous and still bare. The sun is up, but has not reached all of the meadow yet, and is only hitting the tops of some of the trees. In one of those trees, way at the top, is a cardinal singing his heart out. He is gleaming bright red in the sunshine and welcoming the day as only a cardinal can. Oh happy day!

Later on that same walk I saw a cardinal and a robin "discussing" who would get the top of another tree for, presumably, the same purpose.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Stone Walls

Some may know what they seek in school and church,
And why they seek it there; for what I search
I must go measuring stone walls, perch on perch;

excerpted from Robert Frost's A Star in a Stoneboat

This whole poem is interesting - about looking for fallen stars in stone walls, of which there are miles and miles all over New England, but I find something else in this segment of the poem. It makes me think of all there is to learn outdoors. For me stone walls have always had a mysterious fascination. It is as if the past is somehow buried within them, and if I knew how to access it, I could learn about the people who built the walls, and those who have walked along them over the years. So, like Robert Frost, I traipse along stone walls, seeking for something that I have not yet learned. And this is when I get to see many of the denizens of stone wall country - today I saw an American robin with the sun shining full on its "red breast", I saw two red-bellied woodpeckers yakking at each other in a tree, I saw a red squirrel sitting on a stone wall eating a clementine, I saw the deer back at my birdfeeder, I saw a song sparrow singing at the top of a still-bare tree. And the buds on the trees are swelling - it won't be long now before the first hints of green appear. The whitetail bucks will begin growing their new racks, and if I'm lucky I'll see a fawn passing through with its mother.

(a perch, in this instance, is a linear measure of varying length, depending on where used)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

always more to learn

I've been ignorant about pine siskins until now. I have known the name, and had a vague idea of what they looked like, but never delved into learning more about them.
I've had goldfinches as my feeders for years. Now I come to find out that I've probably had pine siskins as well. I certainly have them this year.
Both kinds of birds are in the finch family, and they often flock together. Siskins will have irruptions, which means that some years there will be many, many more than in other years. I suspect that what has happened is that this is an irruption year, and so I have finally noticed them.
Goldfinches and pine siskins are about the same size and shape, and look vaguely similar in their winter plumage, though not really, if you know what you are looking for. Goldfinches are not very gold in the wintertime, but they are mostly solid colored, with black and white stripey wings. Siskins are more brown, and are unmistakeably streaky all over. A non-breeding female goldfinch could be mistaken for a male pine siskin - and apparently I've been doing just that for quite some time!
Well, as my father used to say, "You learn something new every day."
More info on Pine Siskins
More info on Goldfinches
(and I just figured out how to label a link without actually putting the url in the text!)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


As I walked through a meadow behind my house, I saw something flutter up into the air - I couldn't tell if it was a butterfly or a moth, but I was still so pleased to see such a creature at this time of year. Later on, I saw something moving on an old, fallen down tree trunk - a flash of orange, then just dull brown, like so many of the leaves on the ground. Here's a photo - I tried to get one of its open wings, but was unable to do so. I believe it is a comma angle wing butterfly, from my ID guides and online info. When it flew away, I could tell that it was the same kind I had seen earlier. These butterflies hibernate over the winter, under bark.

We also saw a small herd of seven or eight white-tail deer, which trotted off after they saw us coming.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

In the Garden

Now that spring is so clearly on the way, I am looking around my garden spots. Living in the woods as I do, I don't have clearly defined gardens, but I do have some cultivated plants and a small herb garden. I raked off the protective leaves this afternoon, and found my parsley, sage and thyme all ready to begin again. I bring the rosemary into the house in the winter because it is not hardy enough to withstand the Massachusetts winter. This will be the second year for this parsley, so I'll put in another young one this spring. I'd love to plant seeds, but I don't have enough sun, so I get a little seedling pot to give the plant a head start. I also have oregano and marjoram in the garden, and I always try to grow some basil, but, again because of lack of sun, it struggles.
(The upside of living in a shady place is that our house stays nice and cool in the hot weather, until it gets really humid.)
And my tulips are beginning to peek out of the ground. I hope we get to see them bloom this year. We were gone for a week in April last year, and when we returned, the deer had nibbled away at the poor things and we never got to see those colorful blooms.

Monday, March 16, 2009

What a beautiful weekend!

Yes, yes, yes, spring is on its' way! We had beautiful weather this weekend - warm (50's) and sunny. On Saturday morning I was out for a walk with the dog and since we had a little extra time we went on a longer-than-usual route. Well, Frye caught the scent of something and ran off after it. I saw something skitter up a tree, so I headed in that direction to try to ID the critter. I never did find it - though I think it may have been a fisher, given the size and color and action that I did catch, plus some footprints I subsequently saw - BUT as I wandered into the swampy area after the dog, I saw my first skunk cabbage of the season! Yes, they are beginning to emerge, much to my delight. Here are some growing along my stream...

Skunk cabbage are neat because they can generate their own heat, enabling them to emerge early in the spring, when there are still frosts.
(more info on skunk cabbage)

Yesterday was particularly warm-ish, and I saw my first bee of the year - I believe it was a honey bee, but I'm no entomologist. My son said it was the fourth one he'd seen this spring.

Another curious event - you've seen the photo of the deer at my birdfeeder? Well, the birdfeeder was off its hanger on Saturday morning (I'm guessing the deer knocked it down) and I didn't have time to replace it properly before I had to leave for the day, so I just set it next to the can where I keep the birdseed - outside. Sunday morning, there was no sign of the feeder! It had been moved under the small deck back there. Some very energetic squirrel must have been trying to get the last few seeds out of the feeder, and managed to push it under the deck and also take off the bottom segment of the feeder. I put it all back together and put in more seed - empty again this morning, but still on the hanger.

Friday, March 13, 2009

birds playing

One doesn't usually think of birds playing, but I am sure they do. I was out hanging laundry a little while ago, and saw two downy woodpeckers chasing each other around a tree and between trees. Also saw a small hawk (Cooper's or broadwing?) zipping around. Yesterday I caught sight of a red-tail hawk wayyy up in the sky, and I would swear it was doing aerial tricks up there, just for fun.

There was a titmouse in another tree, calling back and forth with a titmouse on the other side of the yard, and I have a large flock of goldfinches that make a lovely background song. I know they are there, but they are so high in the trees and so small and brown that I cannot see them except when they come down to the feeders.

I think maybe chickadees are my favorite songbird, though. They don't have the most beautiful song, or the most striking plumage, but they seem so solid and straightforward. Their colors are definite, and they seem to know just what they are doing. We have loads of black-capped chickadees around here. They can go into controlled hypothermia when winter gets really cold, and this conserves their energy to get them through the frigid weather. How's that for planning on Mother Nature's part?!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sweet sweet spring

Figure 1 Today's nifty observation was shared by 12 second graders and their teacher. I was teaching a program on making maple syrup, and we came up to "Grandmother Maple", a tree that might be over 200 years old, and there was sap dripping out of some branches that were pruned last fall. What a great way to dramatize the probable mode of discovery of maple sap as a tasty food source. Have you ever tasted a sapsicle? It will be just a teeny bit sweet, because as the water freezes, the sugar gets concentrated. Of course, sap doesn't taste like much until you boil it for hours and turn it into syrup. But all that hard work sure it worth it when you taste that maple gold.
(photo from

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Oh, joy!

I just saw the first truly yellow goldfinch this year - Spring is upon us! How especially cheering on a rainy, chilly day.
Also had a pair of turkeys walk through earlier this morning.... (this photo is from 5/07)

Cheerful in the Rain

What a dark and dreary morning. I woke in the dark, to rain on the roof. Birds are active though, and a Carolina wren cheered me with her insistent call. Gotta love a bird whose voice is about 100 times its weight!

I must say that the still-bare trees look elegant in the gloom, swaying in the wind. This is actually a great time to see birds and last year's nests, because there are no leaves to block your vision (true all winter, of course) and there is no glare from the sun.
And another bright spot in my woods is a beech tree that is still clinging to last year's leaves. Beeches can propagate by putting out root runners, and the "mother" tree has lost most of her leaves, but the saplings still have theirs. I wonder why they hold their leaves? Oaks do also, to some extent. A chance for some research!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


The snow we had yesterday left a wonderful "canvas" for my wildlife neighbors to leave footprints on - not too deep, not too soft. As Goldilocks said, it was "just right!"
I looked out my bedroom window to see a wide variety of animal tracks surrounding one of my birdfeeders. I saw deer, fisher, gray squirrel, red squirrel, mouse, and small bird tracks. Pretty neat!

Monday, March 9, 2009

March can't decide if it wants to be a lion or a lamb yet. We've had a little of both.
A redwing blackbird perched in a tree outside my kitchen this morning, looking, to me, a little bothered by the precipitation.
My dogwood buds are getting fat, but nowhere close to popping yet. I hope they wait until frost danger is gone. It is amazing how well the plants do, even when the weather plays tricks.
Well, all this snow/rain/sleet will be good for keeping our stream flowing into the summer, but I may keep my birdfeeders full a little longer. I usually stop around the vernal equinox, but we'll see how warm and green it is then.

Just want to recommend a good book on owls - Owls of the U.S. and Canada, by Wayne Lynch - great photos and good, readable information.
Arlo & Janis Mar 08, 2009

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Warming up

Another warm day, with temps close to 60ºF. There is now more bare ground than snow-covered, though the piles along the roads will take some time to diminish. The goldfinches are singing like crazy and our stream is rushing along. The forsythia is swelling. When we got up this morning, my husband noticed one of our birdfeeders knocked off its' wire - I guess the deer have been here again, but the ground is too mucky now for them to leave prints. You know it's been a rough winter when the deer are eating from your birdfeeders.

Since we changed the clocks to daylight saving time last night, we'll have a good long evening today. I suppose we need clocks to coordinate with other humans, but the plants and animals outside seem to do just fine without. I used to fantasize about trying to live without a clock for some time period - the cabin in the woods idea, but have never actually tried it out - maybe someday.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Starting Out

This an experiment in record-keeping, really. My thought is to record various observations from outside, bringing them inside. Seeing as this is the first time I've tried anything like this, it will be interesting to see if it works, or not.

For instance, on a walk this morning, I heard a Pileated woodpecker calling, but never saw it. I also heard a couple of cardinals, numerous chickadees, some redwing blackbirds, and some mourning doves. To me, that is what makes a walk interesting.

Now, my witch hazel didn't bloom until February this year. Some years it has bloomed in January. My day lilies are beginning to poke through the ground, but I can't see the skunk cabbage yet. I'm sure that will come along soon, since it is now March.

So, this is a beginning, and we shall see where it might lead.