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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

answer to a question

Those yellow blossoms that I could not identify earlier (4/18/09) turn out to be Japanese yellow dogwood, also called Japanese cornel dogwood. The blooms have gone now, but the leaves are coming, and they appeared dogwood-like, so I googled yellow dogwood. Cornus officinalis is the Latin name. I should have guessed it was in that family, for when I looked closely at the flowers, they had that four-petal pattern of dogwoods, and the branches are opposite, as dogwoods are. So - live and learn (by being patient and doing a little research).

an old nest

As I was tromping through a swampy area today, I came across this adorable little nest in a shrub. The opening is about 2", maybe 2 1/2", in diameter. You can still see the milkweed fluff used to line it. I'm thinking it might be a goldfinch nest. They nest late in the season, so this would definitely be a leftover from last year.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

another owl!

Today I saw a barred owl! I was walking in the woods, not even looking for owls at the time, when I heard a loud-ish sound. I looked upward and saw a great shape fly into a sort-of-nearby tree. It was big and brown. At first I thought it was a great horned owl, but when I looked through the binocs it was clearly a barred. It was browner than other barreds I've seen, though. It sat for quite a while, and while I could not get into a good position to photograph it before it flew away, I was able to watch with the binocs, which was fabulous. After it flew off, I heard a bunch of blue jays squawking away in the area the owl had flown toward. I'm sure the jays were mobbing the poor owl. When I walked home that way a little later on, all was quiet, so either the owl had flown off, or the jays had gotten bored and left.

For today's photo, I have some forget-me-nots. These are one of my favorite flowers. Some years I have lots, and some years not so many. I have a few now, and it looks like more are on the way. Last summer, when we spread my father's ashes in the stream at Arcady (so they could, theoretically, make their way down to his beloved ocean), some of the ashes landed in a clump of forget-me-nots. How perfect, I thought, as tears came to my eyes.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

mystery visitor, and more

This morning, when I went out the first time, I noticed footprints in the mud of my pond. It hasn't rained in a few days, and the water level is going down. Someone had walked across a shallow spot. The mud is too soft for the footprints to be identifiable, but they are about the size and shape to fit a fisher. There are lots of fishers around, but they are pretty shy most of the time. And they tend to be out during the night in the summer (and during the day in winter), so that's my guess for these mystery footprints.
Out walking today I saw two kinds of birds that I don't often see. I was surprised to see any, actually, because it was over 90ºF today. But I did. The first turned out to be a Prairie Warbler - I think - I looked it up when I got home, and that one best fits what I saw. This bird kept "wagging" its tail, which is a key id point for this bird. I was pretty sure it was a warbler, but there are dozens of types of warblers, and I'm no expert. The next, of which I saw two, in different locations, was a Veery, which is a kind of thrush. Again, I was pretty sure it was a thrush, but unsure of which one, until I looked it up. This bird was smaller than a robin, but had that same thrush shape. These birds are pretty common, I understand, but rather secretive and so hard to see.
And the poison ivy is leafing out. I'm not terribly allergic, but I do get a reaction, and it's never fun. Apparently, climate change/global warming is causing poison ivy to put out stronger urushiol (the oil that causes the rash). That is probably low on the priority list of things to worry about in a changing climate, but it is something to think about.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Last year's beech leaves are finally off the trees. I don't know the reason, but the American beech holds its leaves until the new ones are about ready to open. The first of these photos is from last Wednesday, and the second today.

Here are a couple of plants I saw on my trip to Georgia, both on Stone Mountain. The spiderwort (Tradescantia hirsuticaulis) was very pretty. The red moss (Diamorpha smallii) is not actually a moss, but grows in mats the way moss does, hence the name. Stone Mountain is essentially a huge lump of igneous rock that sticks up from the surrounding landscape. There is not much soil on it at all, and none at the top, so the plants that live there are fairly specialized - adept at getting nutrients from the rock, and at absorbing water before the rainfall dissipates.

And here are some lovely fiddleheads from my own yard - I'm not sure yet what type of fern they are, but I'll know in a few days when they unfurl.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

return from away

I was in Atlanta for a few days, where it seems like full summer already. Trees are fully leafed out and temps were in the 90s. Lots happened in my yard while I was gone, sped up by temps in the 80s here.
No photos today, since I just got back, but
>both lilac bushes are on their way to blooming this season
>the dogwood flowers are coming - still green, but soon will fill the yard
>the shadbush buds are bursting
>the maple leaves are starting to pop
>there were three frogs in the pond - a big green, a small probably green, and a wood (not sure why the wood frog was still in the pond - they usually go back to the uplands after mating, so maybe it hadn't finished its business)
>the cowslips have lots of blossoms
>the trillium is about to bloom
>several primroses/primula are blooming
>the fiddleheads are showing on the ferns
>the red baneberry (which I don't remember seeing last year) is up and leafing out
>the vinca minor is in bloom
>the deer have been eating the daylily leaves
>there are no flowerheads on my tulips
>one of my hawthorn seedlings has bigger leaves than the other
>violets are beginning to bloom
>the spicebush flowers smell lovely - a little like lily-of-the-valley, one of my favorite scents
>pachysandra is in bloom
And I wasn't gone long - not even four whole days! I'll see more tomorrow, I'm sure. I wonder if the robins have begun laying eggs in that nest?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

new nest

The robin nest has been built. There was almost nothing there last night, but by mid-morning there was definitely a nest there - and after this photo was taken she kept working on it. Here's another photo of Mrs. Robin with some nesting material. Apparently Mr. Robin doesn't help much with the housework, but she does a pretty darn good job by herself. We have one nest that came down last fall and sat on the ground all winter - it is still nearly whole.
As an aside, and since I live in Massachusetts, I wanted to point out that it was discovered, or made public anyway, in 2005 that both of the swans in the Public Garden are female. And act as a mated pair.
Back to my own yard - my daughter just spotted two fishers in a tree in our neighbor's yard. One ran over into our yard and disappeared into a tree here. I went out with the camera, but couldn't find it. (It's also raining very hard just now.)
And earlier this morning I noticed that my first cowslip has bloomed. How pretty is that? I transplanted this from a stream out behind my house to the one in the yard.
Lastly, I don't think those yellow blossoms are sassafras. I looked at some confirmed sassafras bushes today, and they do not have yellow blossoms. So I'm stumped for the moment. When the leaves come out, maybe I'll be able to identify it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

spicebush in spring

My spicebushes are in bloom. The lovely Lindera benzoin is a native plant that is common in moist wooded areas - like my yard.

That nice nest-beginning blew down in yesterday's strong winds, but I did see the robin back at work today, so perhaps there will be a completed nest before long. At least they hadn't gotten too far along...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

nesting time

Here is the beginning of a robin's nest under the eaves of our house. Some years we've had as many as three nests, all on different beams. And in all the years, and all the broods (robins often have more than one a summer), and all the nests, I've never seen the babies fledge, that is, begin to fly. Maybe this year...

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Just noticed this bush across the street - it's not witch hazel or forsythia, could it be sassafras?

flock of flickers

I had a nice long walk with the dog this morning. Going across a meadow up the hill from my house I saw a flicker up in a tree. I'm more used to seeing them on the ground because these woodpeckers prefer to eat ants and beetles and other ground-dwelling bugs. With my binoculars I got a beautiful view of this yellow-shafted flicker. I came out of the field, and toward the ball field at the school and there were a whole bunch of robins foraging on the outfield. Robins are fun because they are so ubiquitous, so I got out the binocs again, and among the robins was a flicker. Wait, there were two flickers. That's neat! I'm scanning the field with the binocs to see a bunch of robins, the flickers and a crow, or maybe it's a raven, and suddenly I see more flickers! I counted at least eight flickers on that ball field this morning. There might have been nine, or one might have flown from one side of the group to the other; they were sort of spread out. And I got to see two of them fan their tails and do a little dance around each other. I don't know if that was a mating thing or a territorial thing, but it was cool to watch. And a good thing I had my binocs, or I wouldn't have seen any of it. Flickers have lovely yellow shafts on their feathers (red in the western states) and a bright red patch on the back of the head. They also have a white patch that shows at the base of the tail when they fly, but their overall color is a muted tan with black spots. Anyway, they don't show up much on ground that is primarily still brown at this time of year. The dog waited patiently while I watched the bird activity.
I also saw red-winged blackbird, cardinal, blue jay, goldfinch, junco, and heard woodpeckers, phoebe, and carolina wren.
And the dog got to chase a coyote! He ran off after some scent while I was looking at birds - finally got bored, I suppose - and I heard him bark, which he hardly ever does. I could hear him running through the leaf litter up the hill from where I was, and I suddenly saw a grayer, smaller version run through the trees, followed by our mutt. He ran after the coyote for a while, in spite of me calling him - he's going deaf, plus was excited, I'm sure, by the chase - but finally came back, looking very pleased with himself. I was feeling grateful, both for seeing the coyote, and that my dog was safe and that all his shots are up to date.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

another butterfly

Remember the comma anglewing I saw back in March? I saw one again today. I have no idea, of course, if this is the same one or a different one, but this one thoughtfully spread its wings out so I could get a good photo of the decorated side. Here are both photos - can you believe they are of the same type of butterfly?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

dancing butterflies

Another lovely spring day. Another day of discovery. Today I saw mourning cloak butterflies dancing. I left the path in the woods behind my house to look at some large boulders. I never got to the boulders because I got distracted by the first butterfly. I watched for a while, trying unsuccessfully to get a camera shot, and eventually it was joined by another. The two of them joined in an elegant dance that covered many square feet of forest, and included several sweeps to the tops of the trees and back down to the forest floor. The pair flew in tandem, and I was in awe of their ability, especially as it was rather windy and I don't know how they kept from being dashed into trees, let alone how they stayed together so perfectly. Eventually one of the pair flew off, but what a show they put on!
My other cool sighting for the day was a weasel. I was walking with several co-workers, and not especially quietly, as we came up to a stone wall where one had seen what she thought might have been an escaped ferret. Well - we were treated to a great view of what we think was a long-tailed weasel (but could have been an ermine). Of course none of us had a camera...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

turtle day!

Today was definitely the day for painted turtles to be out basking. It's been two and a half weeks since we had a really, truly, lovely spring day, but today has been worth the wait. Wonderful warm sun, and no need for a jacket this afternoon! But back to the turtles; I saw three this morning with my class. That was pretty good, because it wasn't even super warm at that time - just before noon - but the turtles were out there, soaking up the rays; three of them all lined up on a log.
But I really hit the jackpot on my way home from work. I was driving by a wetland where there used to be a beaver lodge (I suppose the beavers moved out as more and more people moved in - it's an area of lots of office buildings and a power station and the DPW stump dump and compost facility), when I saw dozens of shiny dark bumps in the mud on the side of the stream that runs through the wetland (the water level must be controlled upstream, because the water level was lower than normal). I thought "Turtles!" and then I just had to stop and look to make sure. After I parked, I tromped through some muck and old brush and reeds, but I definitely found turtles. Dozens of them. As I approached, they scooted into the water, obviously disturbed by my presence. A few stayed on the bank, and I could see some floating in the water. The ones in the water would dive down under when they saw me move. Further upstream there was another batch of more painted turtles; some of them were quite large, meaning they are old - they keep growing their whole lives, although growth slows after they reach maturity.
Does anyone else get as excited about this stuff as I do?
A bit of trivia - Massachusetts has ten native turtle species. That's the same number as frog species, coincidentally.
Walking the dog a little later on, I got a great look at a beautiful red-tail hawk. It looked around from this tree, and then flew off to hunt from another perch. I guess they don't hunt red-wing blackbirds, because one was sitting in the same tree, calling, which was made me look up to that spot in the first place. This area is a cleared space where the high-tension power lines run through and it is cut every few years to allow access to the power company trucks. They make a big mess, but it gives the wildlife an open space to populate, which is great for me.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Whenever I go for a walk - whenever I go out, for that matter - I am always looking, observing, watching, to see what I can see. And whenever I am in a place where I might see owls, I look especially carefully for owls. They are amazing and wonderful and shy - hard to find. So I basically never see them. I saw a barred owl, several years ago, on a walk, but haven't seen any wild ones in ages, though I hear them fairly frequently. Some neighbors up the hill had a great horned owl pair nest in their yard - lucky! But TODAY was my lucky day. I was in a mixed woodland - maple, pine, oak, some birch - when I stopped to take a photo of these red maple blossoms and as I was focusing the camera, a large bird flew out of nowhere; at least it seemed like that to me. It must have come from fairly near, if not in, that maple. At first I thought it was a red-tailed hawk - we have loads of those around here, and while they are amazing birds, it is not really exciting to see one as they are so common. This large raptor flew to a nearby tree, and I could see by the way it perched that it was not a red-tail. It was shaped like an owl. It turned its head and I could see two "ear-tufts" on its head. A great horned owl! I was thrilled, and though I had the camera out, the bird flew off before I could get a shot. My heart was beating wonderfully and I was practically gasping - I love these birds, and while I've seen captive ones often, and even handled one on occasion, to see one in the wild is a spectacular experience. I followed after it for a while, but could not see where it had flown to, so I gave up and will just savor the memory.
Those "ear-tufts" are not ears at all, by the way. The owl's ears are on the sides of its head, not so different from ours, though they are at different heights so the owl can triangulate the location of its prey.

more growing things

The weather is still cold, below freezing last night I think, but spring progresses, if slowly. Here are some images from my yard.

lilac buds - These are leaf buds, but I hope to get some flowers this summer. We had a hedge of lilacs where I grew up, and I just love them - so pretty and so fragrant. We had white, dark purple, and lavender. The ones I have now are the lavender variety.
a trillium bud - This is the only one I have (that I know of). It used to grow in front of my neighbor's house, between the street and the sidewalk, and it kept getting mowed down, even when I put rocks and a stake by it. So one year I moved it. You aren't supposed to move wild ones, and even cultivated ones (which this is, I think) are supposed to be hard to move, but this one seems very happy where I put it, and I look for it every spring. Now, in mid-April, here it is.

spicebush buds - I didn't know about this plant at all until several years ago when we put an addition onto our house. We live very near a wetland, and the conservation rules required us to replant an area that needed to be disturbed during construction. We had a list of plants that are native to the area and that we should be sure to restore to the area. Spicebush was on the list, and it turns out it grows like crazy all around here. It is pretty, and it smells nice when you crush the leaves or scratch the bark.

scilla flowers - My grandmother gave me a bunch of these bulbs a few years ago. I planted them in an area that is hard to grow in, hoping they will spread and fill it in. They look so pretty when there is a whole carpet of them. So far, no carpet, but the plants keep growing, so maybe someday...
And the red maples that grow all around here are turning red as the flowers start blooming. I live on a long straight stretch of road (in an area where many road twist and turn) and I love to turn onto my street and see how the trees are changing along the way. There's always something new to see.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Another rainy day, but here is an update on the skunk cabbages growing along our stream.

Friday, April 10, 2009

talking turkey

It's been a busy few days around here, and I haven't been out as much as I'd like, but I've had a gallinaceous visitor the past several days. Yes, a male wild turkey has been stopping by at least once a day, sometimes more often, to scratch under my bird feeders and pick up any good leftovers, or bugs that are in among the shells (I feed black oil sunflower seed). He's quite handsome, and his feathers are beautiful. I haven't seen him display, and I wonder if he's a young turk (ha, ha) with no lady friends to keep him busy. Anyway, I enjoy having him around. Ben Franklin advocated for the wild turkey to be our national bird, instead of the bald eagle. Eagles are better fathers, but turkeys are more socially responsible. Also, while the eagles are very impressive to look at, the turkeys, in my opinion, are more beautiful - they have an incredible variety of colors on their feathers, many of which have a wonderful iridescence. This turkey is shy and hasn't let me get any photos yet, but I'll keep trying - meanwhile, here is a photo of one that visited a couple of years ago.
I didn't see the mallards yesterday, but they stopped by today, and swam right under our little bridge while I watched them. Then they toddled off in the wetland. So beautiful.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

more spring arrivals

So the phoebes are back. Phoebes generally come back to the same area, and often build a nest in the same site as previous years. They are flycatchers, insect eaters, so they migrate to warmer climes where insects can survive for the winter. But now they have come back to New England. I heard one in my yard the other day, and heard and saw one at work today. Little by little we get closer to summer, though the weather today would fool anyone - cool, almost cold, and showery with only a couple of glimpses of sunshine. It's 43ºF now, and I don't think it was much warmer earlier. But I'm starting to see violet leaves poking up out of the soil.
Spring reminds me of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, which I loved as a child, and enjoyed reading to my children. The images of the coming spring are still strong in my mind: "The grass is greener and things are sticking up everywhere and things are uncurling and green buds of leaves are showing." And a little later on, "Things are crowding up out of the earth... [a]nd there are flowers uncurling and buds on everything and the green veil has covered nearly all the gray and the birds are in such a hurry about their nests for fear they may be too late that some of them are even fighting for places in the secret garden. And the rose-bushes look as wick as wick can be, and there are primroses in the lanes and woods, and the seeds we planted are up..." For me, each spring is as exciting as Mary's first spring in that English walled garden.
And Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are back again this evening.

Monday, April 6, 2009

rain rain rain

We had lots of rain today, torrential at times. So much for April showers...
I wasn't surprised that we had rain - it is April in New England, after all - but I was a little surprised by how much avian activity I witnessed.
Just now a bright red cardinal perched briefly in the tree outside the nearest window. Earlier there were several goldfinches - bright yellow now - at one of my feeders. And a turkey that has been hanging around here was checking out the dregs under the feeders. The finches were making quite a lovely racket in the trees even when it was raining really hard. I did see a robin sitting on my step looking rather grumpy, but it didn't seem to be in any distress. I can't imagine how those tiny feathered bodies survive in such wet conditions. I suppose some don't, but in general they seem to do just fine. Chalk another one up to Mother Nature, I guess.
Oh, oh, as I write this, a pair of mallards is swimming in my tiny little pond. How exciting! I get a pair almost every spring, for a day or two, but they don't nest here - my pond is too small, and it pretty much dries up most summers. Also, there is a lot of foot traffic to disturb them - you have to cross a bridge to get to or from my house because the stream is between the house and the street. Can you see the quackers in this photo? Mrs. has her head down, dabbling, while Mr. is right about at the center of the bridge.
Please keep in mind that it was raining, and also getting dark when I took this photo...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

more buds

The buds on my lilac bushes are turning green! These are the leaf buds. Last year was the first year I had flowers, though the bushes are quite healthy. I just need a little more sun. I hope I get blossoms again this year. And the shadbush buds are continuing to swell as well ; )

Friday, April 3, 2009

tree hugging

Here are some Baucis & Philemon trees. One is a double trunk (one of which has died, though you can't see it in this photo), but there are two distinct trees here. I'm taking an educated guess that we have an oak and a black birch, but I won't bet on it - I'll let you know after the leaves come out again.

Baucis and Philemon were an elderly peasant couple who always worked hard and treated everybody fairly. They didn't have much, but they were happy to share.
One day Zeus and Hermes (or Jupiter and Mercury, depending on your version) decided to see if they could find any good humans. They disguised themselves as weary travellers and went knocking on doors in Phrygia, looking for a meal and shelter for the night. At house after house they were turned away, until they came to the humble cottage of this kind and honest couple.
When the gods knocked at the door, they were greeted warmly and Philemon immediately stoked the fire from their precious wood supply while Baucis began to prepare food for the visitors.
As they ate, they drank wine, and Baucis soon noticed that the jug never emptied! She realized that the visitors were not mere mortals. She whispered to Philemon, and he jumped up to get their only goose, to serve to the guests, thinking that only bread and vegetables were not enough for such lofty company.
At this time, Zeus and Hermes revealed themselves and insisted that they had more than enough food, and that the goose should live to see another day. "You have done more than enough," they said, "and have shown us that there is good in humanity." The gods took the couple outside, and showed them that the valley below had been flooded, drowning all the unkind people who had refused to feed and shelter the gods. At the same time, the tumbledown cottage that Baucis and Philemon had lived in for so long became a lovely white temple.
Zeus then asked the pair what wish he could grant them, to repay them for their kindness. They spoke quietly together, and then made a request. "We wish to never be apart, and for neither of us to outlive the other," they said.
Zeus granted the devoted couple their wish. They lived out their days as caretakers of the temple, and when their time came to die, they transformed, together, into trees. And if you come upon a small temple on a Phrygian hillside, look to see if there are an oak tree and a linden tree growing together, branches intertwined. This is how Philemon, the oak, and Baucis, the linden, are still holding hands.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

note to self

Saw a pair of mallards on Simpson's pond. What are the woody plants growing just above the pond? Investigate later in the season when they leaf out...

more flowers

Look what else I found - crocuses (croci?)! I also found buds on scilla, primroses and trillium. Maybe I can get some pics in the next couple of days...


I suppose they must have been working their way through the leaves for a while now, but I just noticed them today. Pulmonaria! Often called lungwort, Pulmonaria officinalis was thought to be a remedy for lung ailments. People thought the spots on the leaves made the leaves look like lungs, so that plant must work on that part of the body. Not bad reasoning, really, even if it didn't turn out to be true.
I like the flowers because they are pretty colors - pink, purple and blue all on one plant - and they bloom really early. I suppose I didn't notice them yesterday because it was gray and chilly and I was inside a lot, but the ones I saw this morning are definitely some of the first. I looked around my yard, and most of the pulmonaria flowers are still buds.
And every day I see a few more daffodil leaves, and the ones already up are a little taller.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pond Life

My first tadpole sighting of '09 occurred today. My son found it in our little pond. Most likely it was a green frog pollywog, since that is the species that mostly inhabits our wetland. I'm excited because we didn't seem to have many frogs last summer (though we did have a lot of snakes.... a coincidence? I think not.) It is also kind of fun since I've been reading a lot about frogs because Passover is coming. The second of the ten plagues God set on the Egyptians was a plague of frogs - they hopped out of the Nile into houses and all over everywhere. Then they died and were stinky. Anyway, there are ten species of frogs in Massachusetts. I have spring peepers and wood frogs near my house, but not on my property (except perhaps occasionally). And there are certainly toads around my yard at times - toads are frogs, too.
So the tadpole is pretty cool, but what I think is even cooler is that I saw an awesome caddisfly larva, an inch and a half long. These critters are really cool because they build their own houses around themselves, using glue they make with their own saliva. Depending on where they live, they will use different materials to build these "homes", which are really protective cases for the growing larvae. Eventually they will seal up the case and pupate, turning into the actual caddisfly. Fly fishermen like to make lures that look like adult caddisflies - I guess fish like to eat them. The one in my pond had taken bits of bark about half an inch long and maybe an eighth of an inch wide and made a long skinny house for itself. These guys live as larvae for a long time, sometimes a couple of years, but don't last long as adults. Their goal as an adult is to reproduce, and once that is done they are finished - they don't even eat. So no wonder they hang out as larvae for a long time! Since the larvae will make cases with whatever material is available, some people have figured out how to make jewelry from the shed cases. If you keep the larvae in a tank with pretty stones or bits of glass, they will use those to build with, and when the larvae are finished with the cases you can collect them, preserve them with a sealant, and add hooks for earrings, or string several cases for a bracelet or necklace. I've never tried it.
Also in my pond I saw a couple of freshwater snails today. My daughter said I looked silly sitting there staring into the pond, but it sure was fun! And as the spring progresses I'm sure we'll be seeing lots more good stuff.