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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Today I dug up a little sassafras plant from the woods behind my house, and transplanted it to my yard. I've wanted one for a long time, but they are notoriously hard to transplant. This particular plant looks sturdy, and was right on the edge of the trail, where it might get damaged, so I figured I'd give it a chance at my house. We'll see if it takes. Sassafras is a cool plant. It has a variety of leaves - it is sometimes called the "gloves and mittens plant", and besides, the name is really cool. Say it like it's a curse word - it really lets out stress! (Kind of makes me think of Yosemite Sam and "sufferin' succotash!")

Saturday, September 26, 2009

it's really fall

Frost this morning! Not at my house, which is protected by many trees, but up the hill, on the power lines and in the open meadow, there was a lovely autumnal frost - just a nip, and a reminder that the seasons progress.

And I saw a new bird - for me. A blue-headed vireo. I gather from reading that they are fairly common around here, but this was my first exposure. Just goes to show that you can always learn something new. It's a pretty little bird, from the glimpse I could get - it was way up high in some oaks.

I've mentioned that there are lots of acorns this year - well, even the Boston Globe thought it was front page news! Check it out at Boston dot com. Here's my pic of some local acorns.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

poison ivy

Okay, so I kind of like poison ivy. I don't mean that I like the rash I get when I rub up against the plant, but you've got to admire a plant that is so adaptable and sturdy. Besides, birds apparently like the berries. I've yet to see berries on a p.i. plant, maybe because the birds eat them so quickly.

There are all sorts of horror stories about poison ivy. My uncle who was burning brush and didn't realize that there were p.i. branches in the pile because it was winter and all the leaves were off - he breathed in the smoke and the urushiol can be carried that way - nasty! Or my neighbor who didn't realize that poison ivy could climb, and spent a day pulling vines off a tree at his house - itcho! Or my friend's son, who had a systemic reaction (that means he got a rash all over his whole body) while on a vacation trip - no fun!

And then there are the lucky few who are not allergic to the oil. I remember my grandfather's brother clearing out a ditch full of poison ivy. He was wearing long sleeves and gloves, but he was right in the middle of it all, and had no adverse reaction.

I have a sensitivity to the plant, but not a strong one. As long as I am properly covered and careful, I usually only end up with one small itchy spot, or perhaps two, in the course of a summer. A good thing, because my yard seems to have loads of poison ivy. I spray when it springs up near heavy-traffic areas, but there is more than I can even hope to control. It's just part of living in southern New England.

Here are some photos. Can you pick out the virginia creeper, and semi-lookalike cousin of poison ivy?

Remember, poison ivy has many "disguises" - the leaves may be shiny or dull, smooth or serrated, various shades of green or red, and the plant may be climbing or shrubby or trailing, but it always has three leaflets (a leaflet is a part of a compound leaf).
"Leaflets three, let it be!"

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Asters are a sure sign of fall. They come in all colors and sizes, and grow in all sorts of places. I have them along my stream and in the poor, salty soil by the mailbox. I find them in the woods and along the trails as I walk. One of my books says that there are around 150 species in North America, and the World of Flowers website says there are more than 175 species in North America. Either way, there are a lot of different kinds of asters around. An interesting fact about asters is that it has two kinds of flowers - the yellow part in the middle is lots of flowers, and the part that looks like petals, around the edge, is another sort, called ray flowers. The name comes from the Greek and Latin word for "star". Here are some photos of asters near my house.

Monday, September 14, 2009

beautiful blues and other birds

I work at a Massachusetts Audubon Society sanctuary, so it is not surprising that I see birds at work. We have several unreleasable raptors, which are fascinating to look at and work with, since one rarely gets to see those up close in the wild, but my favorites are still the birds I see out in the open, living on their own terms.

Today I saw a great blue heron taking off from one of the ponds on the property. I love these birds, so big and ungainly, yet so graceful at the same time. How they manage to maneuver their bodies is a great mystery to me. Flying so slowly, they look like they'd fall out of the sky, but they never do.
And I also saw an eastern bluebird - it is hard to mistake that brilliant blue of its plumage. While the great blue heron is really more gray than blue, the bluebird is about as blue as you can get. So small and agile, they fly around eating insects and making me smile.

Also I've recently begun seeing large numbers of birds around my yard, eating all sorts of berries and other late summer goodies. Some are probably migrating, or getting ready to migrate, and others will hang out here all winter. The robins have begun flocking, as they do each winter, and I've seen flickers hopping around the lawn several times in recent days. And yet it is still warm enough to have the windows open, so I can hear their calls.
Fall is about as exciting as spring, with all the changes going on!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

the past is with us still

In these images you can, if you look closely, see the marks of the old road that used to run where now there is just a narrow trail. This is one of many reminders that I am hardly the first human to travel this area, though I can frequently do a whole loop back there and see nobody else on two legs with no feathers. (This day I did see a runner.) I wonder if the dog can smell more of what has gone on?

This was a cool yellow jacket nest - it was in a depression in the ground near where a tree trunk had just fallen recently. I'm not sure if the depression was from something falling, or from something that got torn out when the big one fell over. The yellow jackets were clearly busy working on this hive. Unfortunately, the dog didn't heed my warning, and he got stung on the nose, poor guy! We moved on quickly after that.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

falling fall

Over the past couple of days, I've noticed squirrels up in the trees - oaks and pines - dropping things down. I'm guessing they are dropping pine cones and acorns to sustain themselves over the coming winter. But it is pretty funny to hear the acorns pattering down through the branches.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

hard workers

Here are some carpenter anthills. The carpenter ants don't live in these hills, or even under them - they are the detritus, or frass, left from their excavation of the dead tree. Looking for further information online, I was discouraged not to find much about the ants themselves - I mostly found info about getting rid of them, which is certainly a good idea if they have taken to your house, but I wanted to learn more about how they chew up the dead wood, and how they make those neat piles of sawdust. The ants had clearly been working hard, because there were several of these piles - I just took pics of the biggest ones. Imagine how long it must take the little critters, with no hands, to chew their way through the wood, even if it is punky, and then move the sawdust out. They don't actually eat the wood, they just chew it up while constructing their nests.

(There is even a website,!)