Thursday, March 31, 2011

Of Woodpeckers and Beetles....

If you walk around in the woods much you know there are holes everywhere. There are holes in the ground, holes in trees and holes in rotten logs. There are holes in leaves and holes in tree bark.
Holes that have a sharp, well defined edge or that are perfectly round are most likely made by insects, especially beetles of various kinds.
Rougher edged holes like these are most often made by birds, primarily woodpeckers though other birds will peck away at wood and bark as well. Often the holes start out as insect holes and are made larger by the birds poking at them as they look for food.
And then there are the bigger holes like these that make an old tree sort of an apartment house for birds, mice and squirrels....bigger holes may house raccoons and owls. When in doubt, keep your eye on some of these holes to see who might use them. Often that will differ from summer to winter but most likely they are offering shelter to at least one of not more birds or animals.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sketching Moon Snails

Lately I've been noticing lots of moon snail shells on the beach. Most of these seem to have been poached and eaten by sea gulls, their glistening shells left behind. These snails are found on almost all Cape Cod beaches and come in two types, the northern moon snail and the shark's eye moon snail.

The ones I find most often seem to be the northern variety. When you find a shark's eye moon snail, you know it because it has a very distinctive "eye" marking. Anyway, many mollusks such as snails and clams are around all winter but buried pretty deeply or are farther out to sea to avoid all the pounding of winter waves and to avoid being exposed to winter cold. Finding their fresh shells on the beach means they are back for the season. It also means the gulls are pretty happy to have some fresh meat, if the numbers of shells on the jetties and in the parking lot are any indication....
It's still a bit cold to draw outdoors but shells are easy to bring indoors and drawing shells is great practice, both for the eye and the hand. I have been keeping nature journals for many years and all of them are full of shell drawings.
One of the things that makes drawing shells such good practice is that if you get their shape wrong, it is really easy to tell. And getting their shapes right is much harder than you might think...

While poking around looking at moon snail information on the internet this afternoon I came across this information about moon snails of the world. Seriously, take a look. I think you'll be amazed by how many there are....

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Vernal Pools

It's that time of year again when frogs sound like ducks and the spotted salamanders are ready and waiting for a rainy night to travel to....
their favorite vernal pools.

I wrote about vernal pools for my Nature's Ways column this week so check out The Register or the Cape Codder to read it on Friday. You can also learn more about vernal pools at the Mass Fish and Wildlife website.
Vernal pools are the first really active places to find spring springing along. They can be very small or quite large but they are often just like this one, surrounded by bushes and brambles, muddy and shallow. At night they are quite noisy. Listen for the wood frogs in and amongst all those noisy, high pitched peepers. They really do sound more like ducks than frogs...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Blue Eyed Scallops

Who doesn't love a scallop? Their shells are lovely, their meat is sweet and they have all those awesome blue eyes. They are also the only bivalve that can swim a little. It isn't really swimming but by opening and closing their shells they can propel themselves along the bottom of the ocean. Other bivalves, such as oysters remain attached to something their whole life or bury themselves in sand or mud, like clams.
Here on the Cape you can find blue eyed scallops wherever there is a good community of eelgrass. Much of the eelgrass in Cape waters has been in decline over the last 50 years but in some areas it seems to be coming back, if not quite flourishing. A lot of our south side beaches are good places to find these shells and in the fall you will see the scallopers out there with their rakes and buckets. It used to be that a good storm would wash hundreds of them up on the shore, free for the taking but those days are long gone.

Kids love finding live scallops. If they put them in a bucket of water at the beach and keep watch they should be able to see the scallop open up to show off those beautiful baby blues.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

We interrupt our regularly scheduled spring....

to bring you this....
little reminder that winter...
is not leaving without one last word....

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

And then there's skunk cabbage....

Pussy willows give us that happy go lucky, gosh I'm glad it's spring feeling but skunk cabbage....well, skunk cabbage reminds us that spring is also really earthy and ripe as well as a bit mucky and stinky.
Skunk cabbage is named for the amazingly yucky and skunk like smell that permeates the air if the plant is broken. This is easily achieved by stepping on it, something most people won't do more than once. To say that smelling a skunk cabbage is an experience you won't soon forget is an understatement.

They do look pretty cool, though. Eventually they will have big lush green leaves but right now they are just starting to push up through the mud in swampy wet areas. The flowers are very cool and I will post some pictures later as the plants come into bloom.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pussy Willow Time

I can't think of any other plant that is as iconic and indicative of spring than...
the pussy willow. Can you? At least in New England they are one of the earliest trees to put forth their buds.
All willows have furry catkins and in different areas different willows may be referred to as the ubiquitous pussy willow. In our area the honor usually goes to Salix discolor or the American Pussy Willow.

Have you seen pussy willows yet? Look around damp areas like swamps or ponds. These pussy willows were photographed in East Sandwich here on Cape Cod.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Silvery Mornings....

are a rare and a beautiful thing at this time of year...
The sky and the water are the same shade of silver light....
A lone Canada goose paddles along the shore....
as early morning bird song erupts from the branches nearby....
and the blackbirds gather to greet the day.

Images by me from an early morning walk at Ashumet Holly Reservation in Hatchville MA

If you are missing my Weekly Nature Watch in the Enterprise....

Please let the editor of your town's paper know....some towns are putting it in every week while others are dropping it due to the demise of the Region Section and space issues. I have been told by the editors that if they hear from readers it makes a difference so if you're missing my column in the Enterprise....please let them know!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Knobbed Whelks

There are several kinds of whelks common to Cape Cod but on the south side Hyannis, Centerville and Osterville beaches I frequent, the knobbed whelk is the most common.
Here is the shell of one washed up on the beach. I can't help but collect these lovely shells and they decorate many of my window sills.
Whelks are gastropods and are really just big snails. In some parts of the country and other parts of the world you may hear them referred to as conchs thought true conchs are a bit different. If you walk the beach in the fall or winter you may find these long twisty egg cases. These are the egg cases of the knobbed whelk. The cases of the channeled whelk look similar but have got sharper edges to the individual cases.
Often the cases that wash up still have some shells in them. I cut this one open to show the baby whelks that did not survive. Like all mollusks the young grow with their shells. They do not shed them like crustaceans such as crabs.
Here you can see the relative sizes of an adult whelk, the egg case and the baby whelks.
And since it is still a bit chilly to sit in the damp sand and draw I brought them home to sketch in my trusty moleskine.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

When the cardinals sing...

first thing in the can you not smile?
Actually, the first time I heard this guy sing this morning it was still dark out but he has been out there declaring  my yard territory since dawn....

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Signs of spring are here!

You've probably been seeing and hearing them already but all of a sudden they really seem to be adding up. The first osprey was sighted in Falmouth, spring peepers have been heard even on the lower Cape and earthworms are done with their hibernation, making the newly arrived robins very happy. Song sparrows are singing and many other birds are setting up territories.

I'm off the the Cape Cod Natural History Conference at the college today but please add your favorite signs of spring to the comments section.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Just for fun....

I'm busy in the studio and writing other things today but found this cool link for you to check out. The pictures are amazing. Have fun!

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Tribute to John Hay

Earlier this week I learned that one of the most wonderful men in my life had passed away. I didn't really know John Hay in his later years the way many others did but I did know him when I was a child and a young adult and his quiet but profound influence is one of the things that brought me to where I am today...
 The above pictures were taken in 1964 after I got my new Brownie camera. The little girl is me with a parakeet that literally blew in with a storm and landed on my head one afternoon as we got in the dad took the picture and the certificate was from a class I took with Mr. Hay in 1965,,,
Over the years I have collected all his books, most with little notes from him inside...they are some of my most treasured belongings.

This week I wrote an essay about being a child under the tutelage of John Hay for the Barnstable Patriot. If you would like to read it you can find it here.