Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Berries and Birds

At this time of year you can often see the most birds where you find the most berries. The multi-flora rose is an invasive and non-native plant but the tiny hips that remain at this time of year seem to be a favored food for many birds, including a very possessive and aggressive mockingbird that hangs out in the bush in my backyard.Barberry is another plant that supplies food for many birds at this time of year. There is a native barberry but the most pervasive one is the Japanese barberry, which is non-native and also very invasive. Unfortunately both these non-native plants are easily available at many local nurseries.
One plant that I believe is a native, at least to New England, is the privet. Known by most of us as "the hedge" privet has long been a favorite among those who want quick growing and easy to care for hedges. Many folks never see the masses of sweet smelling white flowers late in mid summer or the subsequent dark blue berries because they constantly trim and reshape their hedges. Hedges grown wild, however, put forth multitudes of these apparently very tasty berries.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Morning Frost

There was a brief but beautiful frost this morning...

There's something so lovely about the crystal frosting....even the dead flower heads look wonderful.....

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snow birds

This little song sparrow arrived just after the snow storm blew out this week. The wind was still blowing and it was holding on to the weeds for dear life. You can see the movement of the tail as it tries to steady itself.
It finally had to give up and move but you can still see that little tail working away! Song sparrows are lovely little birds that are easy for children to learn to identify. They have a stripey front with a big dark spot in the middle of it which makes them look different from the other common sparrows we have on the Cape, such as the ubiquitous and non native house sparrows. Song sparrows often sit at the very top of bushes and in the spring are among the first birds to burst into song, other attributes that make them easy to identify.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Winter Moths....

Does your house have something like this going on? A holiday wreath and.....moths at the front door? You may have noticed that moths have been literally rising up from the ground around you when you go out at night and in some areas the moths have been so thick they look like dark clouds in car headlights along the road.
If you're thinking you didn't used to see moths on the Cape in November and December you are absolutely right. These little guys are natives of areas like Canada and have been moving south into our area over the last five or six years. This is their mating time and the swarms of moths you are seeing are males. The females do not fly and are mostly found crawling up tree trunks, front doors, etc. They look more like plain old bugs without wings and you probably wouldn't think they were a moth at all.
Male and female moths use pheromones to communicate with each other. These pheromones work like special scents to signal who is who and who is where. Female moths use pheromones like teenage girls and women use perfume to smell good and maybe attract a boyfriend. After the moths mate the female lays her eggs in the ground near or on the base of trees where they will stay all winter.

This all sounds pretty cool, right? Unfortunately the caterpillars (or larvae) of the winter moths hatch in the spring and climb up our trees and eat the leaf buds before the leaves can sprout, leaving many of our trees leafless all summer long. Eventually this will kill the tree so these moths are not a happy thing to find rising out of your lawn. The larvae go back into the ground to pupate (make a cocoon or crysalis) until late in the next year's fall.

I have thousands of these moths around my house right now but there's one thing that makes me feel better about it. So far I have seen only one or two females. Last year there were hundreds of females crawling everywhere! So maybe next year there will be fewer moths!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blue-eyed Beauties

One of the true pleasures of living near the sea is being able to find and eat fresh shellfish and other sea food. Bay scallops, also called Blue-eyed scallops may be one of the most favored and sought after of shellfish. Small, tender and sweet they make wonderful eating. When I was a child growing up on Cape Cod bay scallops were plentiful but these days they have become a much rarer find and are very expensive. It used to be that they would wash up on local beaches by the thousands after a good storm and the locals would be ready with buckets in hand to run along the shore to scoop up as many as they could as the tide receded. Sadly those days are long gone.

Bay scallops prefer eel grass beds and our eel grass beds are being overtaken by invasive seaweeds, polluted by boat fuels, septic overflows and other lovely things and overfishing as well.

If you are lucky enough to find a live scallop you will see its ring of bright blue eyes. Place it in a bucket of water and you will see it "swim" as it propels itself backwards by opening and slamming shut its shell.

Check south side beaches for scallop shells during the winter.

Oh, and don't forget the true locals say "scollup" not "scaaallop."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Do you know this bird?

Sort of looks like a small flock of Canada geese, doesn't it? But it's not!These small geese winter here and are especially easy to find along our south facing beaches where there is plenty of eel grass. Notice that the black on the neck goes all the way down the front of the bird and that there is no white on the face. These geese are called Brant and come here to feed in our open waters during the winter. In the spring they will head northward and nest on the Arctic tundra.

These birds were photographed at Craigville Beach in Centerville but may also be found at Kalmus and Sea Street Beaches in Hyannis, Dowses Beach in Osterville and other south facing beaches. They may also be found along the bay beaches if there is eel grass nearby.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Love those great blue herons!

Life has been busy and I have been a negligent blog poster lately. I did get these fun shots of a great blue heron over the weekend, though....love that long neck!
This bird was photographed walking around Long Beach and the water is the Centerville River right at the Osterville line.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Milkweed on the Wind

Earlier this fall the milkweed pods were still standing full in the meadows and fields. All seeds have to have a way to find new place to be planted. Some get eaten and digested and left behind in new areas by whichever animal or bird ate them, some hitchhike on fur or hair and some blow away on the wind like tiny parachutes, landing wherever the wind may take them.These milkweed seeds are about to begin their journey. Where will they go? When will they get there? For like most journeys, the journeys of the milkweed seeds might be short and sweet or long and laborious. Some will float away on a gentle breeze and get caught on a branch or in some bushes somewhere. A wilder wind might come along and lift them again and carry them out over the marsh where they might fall in the water. Some might wash ashore onto the sand where they will stick to the bottom of someone's shoe and get carried to a spot of dirt just right for milkweed planting. There is such wonderful randomness in the faith of plants putting forth seeds. They are launched with no idea of where they end up and yet off they go into the breezes and seem to enjoy the ride.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Some Late Summer Fruits

Rosa rugosa is best known as our common beach rose. It is found along salt marsh edges, around the feet of dunes and on the side of many beaches. It isn't native, though it is so pervasive it might seem to be. It originated in Asia and was brought here some time in the 1800's. There are many stories and speculations as to how it got here. Some say seeds were floating in dirty bilge water that was drained here. Others say a romantic sea captain brought a plant back for his wife who loved roses. Frankly, I'm sticking with the latter...In any case, the fruits that grow after the flowers have died off are known as rose hips and the hips of the rosa rugosa are fat and juicy and full of vitamin C. Many people collect them and either make jelly with the ripe fruits or dry them to use in teas, etc. Many birds and animals also eat them. Sometimes confused with beach plums, rose hips are fat and red and beach plums are oblong and purplish.

I've included this pear because so many of our woodlands have grown up in old farm steads and old fruit trees can be found in most local woods. This pear was the last to be found from a little pear tree among the beeches and hickories of Sandwich. I'm sure it didn't last very long.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Princess Pine

If you are out walking in local woodlands you might be lucky enough to come across what looks like an area of tiny pine trees. Called Princess pine by most locals this little plant isn't really a pine at all but a club moss. It is found in clumps, sometimes very large clumps, because it grows by spreading rhyzomes, rootlike structures, under the ground.Lycopodium obscurum is the scientific name of this little plant that goes back in time to when the dinosaurs roamed the earth. Like many things of that time it was much larger then. Today it is not as common on the Cape as it once was and even though it looks like it might be fun to grow in your own yard it does not like to be moved or transplanted.This plant is showing the cones that are put out each fall. They look like little yellow candles. The best place to find Princess pine is around a good fresh water source like a pond or a lake. These were photographed in East Sandwich but many conservation areas in Barnstable, Bourne, Falmouth and other towns are also good places to find this lovely plant. Like the pines it is named for it is ever green and can be found throughout the year.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Marsh Sentries

A familiar sight in our autumn marshes is this tall lone bird standing silently....Even most of the kids here on the Cape recognize these iconic birds as great blue herons. In the early fall we have so many of these birds feeding in area marshes that you can often see a dozen or so at the same time. By now, though, most have moved on, flying south where the weather is warmer and the fishing more sure....Every year some herons stay behind, however. Often one will seem to claim a marsh area as their own. Some will make it through the cold winter and some won't. A lot depends on the severity of the storms and the amount and longevity of ice that blocks their feeding. They also fall prey to predators such as coyotes and hawks. They might seem like a big target for a smallish hawk and they are probably somewhat rare but such attacks have been witnessed here.
This bird was photographed at First Encounter Beach marsh in Eastham on Cape Cod.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


One of my favorite spots to look out over the Cape landscape is at Pilgrim Heights in Truro. Part of the National Seashore it has spectacular views of the Pamet River, the dunes and the ocean beyond. It is also a great place to see kinglets and hawks. The hawks have mostly passed by but the bushes are full of ruby crowned kinglets right now. Their ruby crowns are almost invisible at this time of year but if they were showing they would go well with all the winterberry that is giving such a lovely burst of color to the late autumn landscape.

Winterberry is a deciduous holly, meaning it loses its leaves. The bright red berries are not just beautiful to look at but are a favorite food of many migrating and wintering birds. In some areas these lovely berries will be wiped out by birds long before the first snow flies.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

How Quickly Things Change....

I took this picture of red sumac leaves last week....
And this week they are all shriveled and almost gone....

Fall moves us along so quickly once it gets going!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beautiful Beeches

One of my favorite places to walk at this time of year on the Cape is the beech forest in East Sandwich. It is part of the Sandwich conservation land that abuts the Green Briar Nature Center and is an easy and lovely walk at any time of year. While the beeches and hickories change from yellow to gold may be one of the highlights of the year here in my humble opinion.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Winter Gulls are Here

Gulls are in their winter plumages which makes them fun to try to identify. Do you know what kind of gulls most of these are? I'll give you a hint. These gulls were at Nauset Beach...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Full Moon Today!

The November full moon is traditionally known as the Beaver Moon. Beavers were once hunted for their furs and November was the time Native Americans and early American colonists set their traps, hence the name.

This is a fun site to check out about Full moon names and stories and this is another.

Animals of Halloween in Cape Cod Classrooms

I made big puppets for my Animals of Halloween presentations and you can see two of them in these pictures. The top one is my anatomically correct spider. Using puppets helps little kids past the fear factor but also allows me to use something large enough to point out certain aspects of the animal. I also use pictures and in my classroom activities have lots of hands on elements.Here I am with the owl I made. You'll have to excuse my goofy faces.....This presentation was at the Woods Hole Library and after it was over I let the kids come up and play with the puppets.

This program was a lot of fun to do and many schools and libraries took advantage of the fact that it was free. I worked with hundreds of kids and was in and out of dozens of schools. You can learn more about my classroom programs here.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fort Hill in Eastham

I have always loved Fort Hill and I know I am not alone. These photos are from earlier this month....much of what I photographed has now passed on but why not have a last moment of lovely autumn while we can?The poison ivy was turning....Rosa rugosa hips were still red but getting soft....
The milkweed seeds were just setting forth on their journeys across the meadows and beyond...
And even the invasive phragmites were looking rather poetic against the early October sky...
The seed baskets of Queen Anne's lace were still standing strong, keeping guard on the edge of the great marsh....
And the clouds were moving across the sky just ahead of the wind leaving wonderful shadows in their wake...

I've been away from this blog working in classrooms for the last few weeks and will be posting some pictures from my programs as well as other areas very soon.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sand Paintings

There's something hypnotic about the way the wind and water sculpts the sand between tides....

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Art in Nature

So many times I see things that are beautiful paintings, sculptures, drawings....and they are made by nature and not meant to last. The art that nature makes is usually transitory and often goes unseen and unremarked....

Here are some lovely beach paintings to enjoy.