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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category


Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

I saw a common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) on the deck at work today! It was skulking in the shrubs at first – hard to see more than leaves wiggling – but I had a pretty good feeling based on the song. The wee creature eventually obligingly flew into pretty decent view and sang a bit.

Of all the luck!

Monday, May 5th, 2008

I just started re-reading Pale Fire over the weekend. And today, coming onto the deck at work, heard a bird-sound that grabbed my attention. Massed reedy scrapes. The sounds made me think of Cedar Waxwings, and sure enough, a still-bare tree by the door had a few dozen of them perched and chattering with each other. They were annoyingly backlit, but I found an obliging, handsome one in some sort of red maple (v. triloba?) which was starting to leaf out. Mellow and well-lit, the waxwing allowed me to pull up a chair close to it and sit and watch for a spell. Gorgeous.

Some points:

  • I had never seen these birds in the city before – only up at a campground in New Hampshire.
  • I was a little surprised by their being present at all, since there aren’t any junipers or other berries around on the deck. My guess is that they were resting during migration. They all flew off together except for my special friend, who stuck around and let me watch him for a few more happy minutes.
  • I saw my friend peck at a few twig interstices. Sure enough, wikipedia says that during the breeding season, they will supplement their diet with insects. From what I saw, I’d guess that this is also true during migration.
  • Despite the abundance of windowpanes and false azure in the vicinity, no waxwings were slain in the making of this blog post.

Doves in wuv

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

I spent a while today watching a mourning dove wandering around, picking at twigs. It was quite singleminded at this task, and didn’t pay any attention to my watching from within ten feet or so. It would discard any twigs that were too small or floppy, or that turned out to be roots or otherwise attached to the ground. When it found one it liked, it was usually about as long as its body from beak to tail, and stiff enough not to bend under its own weight. It would hold it and shake it around in it beak a little bit and then, when the twig was apparently adjudged satisfactory, wing up to the tree nearby with it. The tree was some kind of fir, I think – a landscaping tree on the deck at my work in Kendall Square. The dove exhibited an excellent ability to hover as it worked its way into a particular spot in the tree, where it handed off the twigs to another dove. The latter was pretty well obscured by branches, but it looked like it was probably doing the nest-building after the handoff of materials. I assume that he was a man-dove and the other was his lady-love… but this is Massachusetts, so who can say for sure?

But it’s January, guys!

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Nice and warm, and I wonder if it might be blowing the birds’ minds.

Yesterday I heard a house finch in full song on the parking garage across the street from work.

And today, a cardinal doing the “Feww, feww, wheat wheat wheat wheat” business!

Never Before

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

OMG I saw a melanistic squirrel in Brookline last night!!!!!

White Mountains, July 27-30

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

A backpacking trip.

  • Purple Fringed Orchis (Habenaria spp.) (orchis family) – This was growing by a wet trailside. I couldn’t tell whether it was H. psycodes or H. fimbriata, but Newcomb says they intergrade anyways, and may be the same species.
  • Swamp Candles (Lysimachia terrestris) (primrose family) (pic) – The first one I saw was growing on an abandoned beaver dam. Another dam had broken, leaving this one well above the water. The others I remember seeing were by trailsides. When I saw the first one, a wild hope welled within me that it might be solanaceous. I wasn’t disappointed to have it be swamp candles, though.
  • Moss Campion (Silene acaulis) (pink family) (pic) – Apparently only to be found on the summits of the White Mountains! In the Eastern U.S., that is. That qualification was lost on me in my excitement when I first read about this, atop Mt. Garfield. It’s a global North-dweller, and in the U.S. it’s also found in the Rockies.
  • Common Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana) (wood sorrel family) – I was shocked to hear this lovely white-and-pink flower described as “common”, when I’m so used to the omnipresent yellow stuff. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t even realize that there were multiple wood sorrel species.
  • Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) (pinaceae) – This is the one that smells so warm and wonderful.
  • Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) (pyrola family) – The pistil was to one side and all the stamina to the other.
  • Hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium) (honeysuckle family) – Or at least so I think. The viburnum I saw was pervasive, and grew caned over like brambles in the understory. It hardly branched at all. Someone I read figured the name was from it hobbling horses, and I could see it growing across paths in some places, low enough to be a hindrance.
  • Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) (pyrola family) – I’ve seen Chimaphila maculata at the Fells, and I wanted to call it pipsissewa. This was on the same glorious day I first noticed the bristly sarsaparilla, and I was thrilled to have such picturesque names. But the C. maculata seems to go by “striped wintergreen”. The C. Umbellata is pipsissewa, or prince’s pine.
  • Dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) (rose family) – Another understory plant with li’l white flowers.
  • Northern Bugleweed (Lycopus uniflorus) (mint family) – A li’l minty plant seen by lots of trailsides and water features.
  • Clasping-leaved Dogbane (Apocynum sibericum) (dogbane family) – This was growing in a marshy meadow, and seemed unhappy; the leaves seemed to have gone red. I wasn’t 100% positive about the ID.
  • Marsh St. Johnswort (Hypericum virginicum) (St. Johnswort family) (pic) – This was growing by the shores of Black Pond. Also present around here: blueberry, sphagnum and some bog plants (below). The pond itself was home to leeches, which we stirred up and watched. Also tadpoles, newts, bug nymphs etc…
  • Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) (sundew family) (pic) – These are tiny jewels! I captured a mosquito and fed it to one of these. It got good and stuck, but the leaf didn’t curl around at all during the few minutes I watched. I’d hoped for a sort of horror-movie timelapse of the mosquito being enveloped.
  • Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea) (pitcher plant family) – Hooray! One of these that I looked into had three living bugs of totally different kinds thrashing about in its water. I forget what kind. I sacrificed another mosquito to these guys’ wrath.

Weed This Morning

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

Just back from vacation. I noticed this morning that a lot of the low sidewalk weeds are in flower. On the walk to work, the carpetweed, doorweed, pimpernel and sand spurrey were in evidence, and possibly knawel as well. I have a feeling that the spotted spurge is about to burst, and the purslane can’t be far off. Sowthistles abound, and various solanaceae are of interest; black nightshade in flower, bittersweet nightshade with big new swollen green berries.

But most interesting of all these solanaceae is a charismatic weed, completely new to me! That hasn’t happened to me in the city for at least a year. The weed is:

  • Buffalo Bur (Solanum rostratum) (nightshade family) – Big old papery yellow flowers. Fascinating pinnately-lobed leaves, reminiscent of white oak. Cruel, bristling, omnipresent prickles. Unbelievably wicked-looking spiny fruit. Apparently this was originally a weed of the great plains, named for its liking for buffalo wallows. It’s supposed to have a tumbleweed mechanism of seed dispersal. Buffalo bur truly has it all!

It was growing in the vacant lot next to my work building. (Where? I’ll never tell!) I’ve also seen crown vetch in there: which I think is the only place in Massachusetts where I’ve run into it. It’s common as all get-out around Sodus Bay; I suppose it was probably planted for erosion control. There’s a leguminous shrub growing in that site too, and maybe it’s also a rarity which came in with the construction dirt? I burn with anticipation!

Wachusett Mountain

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

This trip was more about hiking than naturalizing, but I busted out the books during one rest break.

  • Red Elderberry (Sambucus pubens) (honeysuckle family) – Growing all over. Delicious! I only sampled a couple, since my books didn’t really say anything either way about their edibility. But they were awesome in small quantity, and it’s always nice to have more wild nibbles. I could even see these, given how plentiful and tasty they are, being a nice jelly choice.

    Wikipedia has Sambucus in the newfangled moschatel family (adoxaceae), according to modern genetic evidence. It looks like that’s how the viburnums roll these days too. But I have them in the caprifoliaceae here for consistency, since I’ve been giving family names from Newcomb’s; I find an antiquarian charm in learning plants with the old-fashioned taxonomy, and I’m sure I’ll also pick up the new stuff as I go along.

  • Fringed Bindweed (Polygonum cilinode) (buckwheat family) – I hate to deprecate one of God’s creations, but to my eye this was just another charmless polygonaceous bindweed, distinguished mainly by how common it was along the trails. The convolvulaceous bindweeds rock harder.

Middlesex Fells, June 10th

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

Actually most of the cool stuff I saw was at the big park which runs along the North bank of the Mystic. I didn’t write anything down and feel sure that I’ve forgotten some interesting things, but here’s what I remember:

  • Garden Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) (pea family) – I’ve seen this streaking past when I’ve driven on the pike, but the Mystic-side park was the first chance I had to sit down and look at it. It was between a paved path and some riverbank type stuff; phragmites, I think.
  • Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana) (lily family) – In the northern part of the Fells, probably along the Crystal Springs trail. Nifty flowers, vaguely holisticly reminiscent of bittersweet nightshade or something. I didn’t want to look at the root, since there were only a few and I don’t much like pulling anything up anyways.
  • Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) (parsley family) – These were growing in a lovely meadow, deserving of many hours’ further exploration, in the Mystic-side park.


  • Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) (cashew family) – This stuff smelled awesome. It was growing on a path-edge at the Mystic park, next to some staghorn sumac. I got a picture of them together to blow my own mind.

Eagle Island, May 20th

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

Back to the island for a day. One year anniversary of a previous visit, as it happens.

I didn’t get to the rich area over by Chimney Bluffs, where I’d seen the trilliums, solomon’s seal and jack-in-the-pulpit. The island doesn’t seem to have this sort of thing, as far as I’ve seen.

Very, very prevalent are the thyme-leaved speedwell and ground ivy. Around the shore, purple dead-nettle is common. I also was able to definitely identify a smooth yellow violet. Unless I’ve forgotten something, the only new plant I saw was some sort of pussytoes. I think that it was Antennaria plantaginifolia, also known as “Woman’s Tobacco”.