Last May, while out hiking, I came across a young fawn curled up in the ferns only three feet from the Appalachian Trail. My husband and our dog had already walked right by without noticing it. I quickly snapped a few photos as the creature lay motionless, its large eyes wide open, a picture of innocence. Then I alerted my husband, we put the dog on a leash, and hurried away. » Continue Reading.
In the early 1960s, Euell Gibbons wrote Stalking the Wild Asparagus and introduced millions of North Americans to the virtues of harvesting wild foods. Since that time, gathering wild edibles has become increasingly popular, and in our region, woods-grown delicacies such as ramps and fiddlehead ferns appear in grocery stores each spring.
Yet you don’t have to lace up your hiking boots to enjoy the wild repast. If you resist the urge to use herbicides, you are likely to find a diverse array of edible wild plants growing in your lawn and vegetable garden. » Continue Reading.
By mid-May each year I begin to look forward to the return of the alder flycatchers that nest in the willows along the stream near our house. Usually the last migrant to arrive on our property, this small, drab, gray bird with its sneeze-like song, signifies that summer is indeed just around the corner. But last year, for the first time in 20 years, another bird joined the neighborhood.
A willow flycatcher announced his presence, just a few days after I first heard the alder flycatcher. To my surprise, the two sibling species co-existed all summer, presumably both nesting in the same acre or so of shrubby wetland habitat. » Continue Reading.
I’ve had my eye on this maple in my woods for some time. Not because it’s a beautiful timber tree. It’s only about eight inches in diameter, after all. But, it has an interesting burl about 14 feet up the trunk.
As a woodturner, I love the twisted wood grain found in most burls. A burl is a surprise package on a tree. Yes, straight grained wood is beautiful. I love the open grain of red oak, the milky brightness of birch, the rich burnished glow of cherry. But they are predictable. A burl is anything but.
Three things happened this week: bluebirds and tree swallows returned, my road was graded, and the red maple buds popped. It’s time to search for vernal pools.
Vernal pools are small areas of wetland that form in the spring and dry up during the summer. Water collects in saucer-shaped depressions that have an impermeable layer of soil, leaves, or debris. Snowmelt and spring rains fill these puddles. Without an inlet to replenish the supply, summer’s sun and heat eventually evaporate the water, though a dense forest canopy helps delay the inevitable drying up. Some vernal pools may refill after a heavy rain, but the main characteristic is their temporary nature. » Continue Reading.
There are times when fish appear telepathic. Consider the uncanny way a school of bait fish moves as one to avoid a predator, or the way goldfish in their lighted bowl turn towards the glass when someone walks into a dark room.
Researchers often describe this ability as “touch-from-a-distance.” But fishy sixth sense is closer to hearing than touch. It’s what allows salmon to deftly ply the currents and eddies as they make their spawning runs upstream. They listen to the flow. » Continue Reading.
Scratch and then sniff a black or yellow birch twig, and the pleasant aroma will likely put a smile on your face. What you are smelling is oil of wintergreen (methyl salicylate). This chemical compound is present in the inner bark in both species, although typically to a greater degree in black birch. In the trees, as well as several edible berries that grow in our region, the compound serves as a defense against herbivorous insects. Most people, however, enjoy the taste.
You can make a very nice wintergreen-flavored tea from peeled black or yellow birch twigs. I advise against trying to brew this the traditional way, though (i.e., steeping twigs in boiling water). The reason is that oil of wintergreen is volatile and easily driven off by heat, so if you attempt to make tea with hot water, your kitchen will smell great but there will likely be little if any flavor in your tea cup. » Continue Reading.
A deer died by the river near my home. The crows found it, as did other scavengers – a bald eagle, and two big brown raptors that were hard to identify. Both had white flecking on their heads, wings and bodies, but the markings didn’t match up, bird to bird. They looked unkempt and more than a little disreputable.
It turns out these were also bald eagles, but young birds, dressed in dark plumage. In common with some other long-lived species, eagles have an extended adolescence. They require about four to five years to mature. During this period they don’t find mates, establish territories, or conform to the adult dress code. » Continue Reading.
All of a sudden, sap season is here and winter’s on its way out. Chances are though, a few more snow or ice squalls are still to come. The next time you find yourself driving behind a big plow truck, take a look at what’s coming out of the spreader. What is used makes a difference for wildlife, especially as the snow melts. » Continue Reading.
Walking through the woods on a cool spring morning, I saw a barred owl in an old maple tree. I circled the owl three times from a distance. Its head kept turning to follow me, tracking my movements with three complete revolutions.
One of the owl’s chicks had fallen from the nest, so I climbed the tree and placed the chick back in it. Then the owl flew up and pushed the chick out of the nest onto the ground, where it lay in a pile of melting snow.
One of the owl’s chicks had fallen from the nest, so I climbed the tree and placed the chick back in it. Then the owl flew up and pushed the chick out of the nest onto the ground, where it lay in a pile of melting snow. » Continue Reading.
The forest is going through a seasonal transition, at a leisurely pace, and often invisibly. Bear cubs, for example, are maturing in hidden dens that we might pass right by.
Black bear (Ursus americanus) cubs are born in mid-January to early February. The newborns are blind, deaf, and toothless, and covered with hair so fine they appear bald. They weigh about a half a pound and are the size of small squirrels. Barely able to crawl, they sense the heat from their mother’s sparsely furred belly and find their way to her protective warmth. She nurses often, shifting position to assist them and to avoid rolling onto them. Her milk is a protein-rich twenty percent (or more) fat. (Human milk, by comparison, is about four percent fat.) » Continue Reading.
If you peek into a wood duck nesting box during the breeding cycle, you might find 10 to 11 eggs, which is the bird’s normal clutch size. But you might also stumble upon a box overflowing with as many as 30 eggs. How, you might ask, can one duck lay and care for so many eggs? The answer is: she can’t.
These huge piles of eggs result from intraspecific brood parasitism, otherwise known as egg dumping. This is when a bird lays eggs in a nest that does not belong to her. Waterfowl – and wood ducks in particular – often engage in this behavior. » Continue Reading.
A guy down the road has been working in his woods for the last couple of years. He’s cleaning them up. And I mean cleaning. He cuts the underbrush. Takes out the dead trees, the downed logs, the dead branches.
Okay, I confess. The neatnik in me is envious. Part of me would like my 70 acres of woods to look like a park. But that’s the problem. A park is not a forest and the forest is more than the trees. It’s an entire suite of complex systems, merging and interacting. An ecological orchestra in the woods.
Dead and dying wood, standing snags, rotting branches are more than Mother Nature’s litter. They’re an integral part of the forest symphony – what forestry types call “coarse woody debris,” or CWD for short. » Continue Reading.
My town had the job of removing a dead beaver from a culvert pipe cage, a rather sad and odorous affair, but also an opportunity. I alerted the usual suspects – there’s nothing like a rotting carcass to bring camera trappers together – and we moved the body into the woods and set up a few cameras.
We placed the body in mature forest near the wetland. We figured that just about any of our meso-carnivores might appear: coyote, fox, fisher, and bobcat were all possibilities. We didn’t get the bobcat, but we did get the others, and the fisher photos were especially nice. » Continue Reading.
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