The winter that started with a vengeance in early February is only now showing signs of letting go. There is still plenty of snow and ice on the ground, and the grass that manages to peek through near pre-heated rocks and roadsides is presenting itself as tired and half dead. Spring is officially here in another week, but much needs to happen before I will start believing. By now ospreys and grackles should have arrived, but they are wise to remain south a bit longer. Not so with the redwing blackbirds – they have had enough and are pushing north on their migration. Some 80 or 90 birds descended on the feeder and the ground below to feed on sunflower seeds. I have been putting these out regularly over the last month or so, only to see the little seeds disappear under fresh snow almost immediately. Now that melting is in earnest the piles of black gold (in nutrition terms) are again available to birds. The redwings are not alone, although they outnumber and crowd out the other species. It is good to hear the frantic crescendo again. But while my perspective from the inside looking out brings thoughts of warmer days, there is no such luxury for the birds. They think only of feeding and moving on to their breeding grounds, probably further north of here. If they can, that is – Not all will make it past today, as a red-tailed hawk is patrolling the neighborhood and forcing the birds into a few seconds of silence as it swoops down and grabs one of the flock. If the survivors are upset by all of this, they don’t show it and pick up song and lunch where they left off. There is both strength and ignorance in numbers.
After about 45 minutes of aimless driving around, we decided to give up and get lunch. Luckily for us, the bartender was a Chatham local who had spent time with her high school chemistry class doing water testing at the Frost Fish Creek Trail. She explained that we were exactly where we needed to be, that the Chatham high School was no longer in existence, so the Middle School we saw was the correct landmark. She also said that the path leading to the trail was on the road we had driven down.
Armed with the knowledge that the trail did indeed exist, we retraced our way back to the area and parked our car at the Monomoy Regional Middle School, crossed the street and walked down the closest road – the name of which escapes me now. These directions would have been helpful at one of these websites! As would have the update that there is no Chatham High School! Anyway we walked down the road and literally walked into someone’s yard, as it seemed to be the closest thing to a path. Somewhat afraid that a large dog would come charging at us any minute, we commented that noone seemed to be around and at that moment heard movement in one of the backyards – so we moved a bit faster! Suddenly we came across a sign “Frost Fish Creek Trail” along with NO HUNTING. This gave us some relief as we were concerned about being mistaken for deer – it’s been quite a common occurence lately on Cape Cod.
We walked the trail, along Frost Fish Creek. It was quite short, and small in acreage – the Frost Fish Creek Trail development we happened upon earlier took up much of it unfortunately. It was peaceful and quiet, but the meditation I mostly had on this hike was about land use – and how sad in a gorgeous and affluent place such as Chatham the amount of undeveloped land was laughable. If this was a landmark, a place written up as a nature trail, broken up by a huge development – I can’t see how any wildlife would be able to maintain a home in Chatham. The coastline on Cape Cod has been overdeveloped for years (try finding a space on a public beach in on Cape Cod in the summer), and now anywhere seen as a “water view” is prime real estate, so it makes sense that no stone would remain unturned – literally – in an area so lusted after for summer and vacation homes.
If you are interested, here is a list of the other three trails on the Chatham Chamber of Commerce website. Perhaps we will go back and give Chatham trails a second try, but it won’t be for a while. I can’t imagine that these are very large, since the Frost Fish Creek Trail was listed as a 45 minute to 1 hour walk, and it took us all of 20 minutes to walk it.
Trail #2: BARCLAY PONDS TRAIL – Old Queen Anne Road and Training Field Road. Entrance to trail is at Yield Sign, 20 feet south of telephone pole #38 in intersection. Park in field (Crowell’s Pit) north of entrance. Quiet, woodsy walk some up and down hill. Approximately 1/2 hour, 12 acres.
Trail #3: HONEYSUCKLE LAND, OFF STAGE HARBOR ROAD – Bottom of hill, left side of road are two short trails leading to the Old Ice Pond. Many water birds are generally seen in this area. Right side of road near telephone pole and along side of narrow stream, a short walk featuring white cedar trees. Also, leading to other trails in and around the Cedar Swamp, which is mostly owned by the Town of Chatham.
Trail #4: GEORGE RYDER ROAD, SOUTH TRAIL – Opposite West Chatham A&P and George Ryder Road, take George Ryder Road South to first right (Harold’s Lane). Take first right off Harold’s Lane (Ralph Street) onto short paved road ending in a dirt road. Entrance to walk is on your left. Ralph Street is the bog owner’s entrance to his working cranberry bog. Please don’t block entrance or neighbor’s driveways. Woods, cranberry bogs, brackish marsh. Approx. 15 minutes, 2.5 acres.
On the day after Thanksgiving we treated ourselves to some travel to the Outer Cape. It was an interesting way to see how radically the weather differs from one end of Cape Cod to the other in the space of an hour or two, as Truro had thick snow and icy roads while Yarmouth and Barnstable’s roads were clear. It was on these icy roads that we drove to Truro, to check out for the first time some of the walking paths in that town. That windy, 32 degree morning found us to be the only brave creatures to walk the Pilgrim Heights path, save for some dog prints in the wet sand we had the place to ourselves. I commented that all those people stuck in a busy shopping mall were missing out, as we climbed the quiet dunes. Then again, those who chose the mall did us a favor, giving us our own private viewing of nature.
Although much of Cape Cod does not have the typical New England fall foliage color we think of, with reds and oranges – fall and winter have their own uniquely beautiful views on Cape Cod. On this particular path in Truro the lush green of fat scrub pines is a rich contrast to the subtle palette of yellow dried pine needles and the icy blue-green of lichens and moss.
A peaceful woodland path at Pilgrim Heights leads to a deserted beach, which is quite striking. In my own non-nature-writer way I described the scene as similar to the beach scene at the end of the 1968 film Planet of the Apes. There were no homes to be seen, just a gorgeous hilly area of dunes and sea – it felt like we were at the end of the world. To add to the “back to nature” moment I was having, I had my first encounter with seals. There were about 40 seals at the edge of the water, I wish I had brought binoculars. They were checking me out, and from far away their heads popping out of the water looked strangely like shark fins. It was really amazing, this brief interaction with these large bright eyed creatures from mysterious world of the sea.
NOTE: This path is easy to find, right off route 6 in Truro. It is extremely well maintained, however it is quite hilly, so not recommended for those who have difficulty walking down or up a steep hill. There is a large parking lot and a few picnic tables, there was also a bike path alongside the trail.
I wanted to write a little about our Cape Cod summer and document yet another season gone by. I did not know in May how cool this summer would be; in many ways I did not mind being spared from oppressively hot days. It was so cool that we barely used fans, forget air conditioning (which we don’t have anyway.)
In my last post back in May I talked about the groundhog that “seemed to move elsewhere” in fact that groundhog, and two of his friends came back. We were able to move them down the street to a less populated area, and we spared our native plants. The wasps who seasonally live in our kitchen window mysteriously disappeared after starting a small nest. I can only guess why they did this – perhaps because in my curiousity I touched the small nest before they moved in? My summer guests were happy not to dodge the wasps entering and leaving our back porch, but I missed them. We had no dearth of wasps this season, quite a few buzzed around our front lawn in August. I have slowly become accustomed to them; my heart still races when one of them lands on me – but I am able to calmly let them fly away instead of freaking out. I still don’t recommend them as pets though.
I bought a new smartphone with which I have been having a blast taking detailed up close photos of the flora and fauna in our yard. My biggest impression of summer 2014 has been the mass of life that lives in our yard, really giving an excellent example of the saying “nature abhors a vacuum”. With the abundance of native plants the soil has become enriched, the yard is noticeably moister. You can’t put anything down, like this empty can of coconut water pictured, without it attracting several bugs in a matter of moments. Here you see a slug, and moments later a paper wasp dived right into the can, which I bravely liberated by shaking him out. He (or she) emerged, dazed, wet and with an interesting story to tell his companions.
Seeing culver’s root bloom in the garden brought out the shopping instinct in me – I just returned from the garden shop at Garden in the Woods and got a few more. The store bought plants have already bloomed and have been cut back, but next year they will be on a Cape Cod schedule. The plants I added a year or two ago are still blooming strong, and the plants are 4 to 5 feet tall. They are thriving with no visible predation from insects nor can I detect any blemishes or disease – ideal in my book as I don’t use pesticides in the garden. The established plants are in a fairly sunny spot, and I may be pushing the limits by putting the new plants in partial shade. They should tolerate this, but time will tell. The light green leaves and the stately upright nature of Veronicastrum virginicum make it ideal as a centerpiece, and that could be even better if you have a few grouped together. Hindsight is 20-20, of course, and I did not follow my own advice in my garden: The plants are mixed in with joe pye weed and marsh milkweed. Joe pye weed is winning the height battle and among the milkweed culver’s root seemed to provide the lighter accents. However, now that the milkweed has turned to seed, mostly, the towering blooms of culver’s root are finally demanding the focus they deserve. I am yet to find out if the plants will naturalize – I have them in a spot where I am not too concerned with formal borders and restraints, so they can go at it and mix it up with the other natives. This may not be a bad idea as the plant is threatened in Massachusetts and New York, and endangered in Vermont. Bees absolutely love this plant but I have not seen many other critters partake.
I want to add that for the first time I have seen culver’s root in some mainstream garden shops, although they seem to concentrate on the varieties with blue and purple hues. Nothing wrong with that as those colors appear in the wild within the species as well.
A female rubythroated hummingbird is enjoying the nectar from a pink variety Monarda didyma (scarlet beebalm). Several hummingbirds, mostly females, have been visiting the beebalm colony. They are very territorial and don’t like to share their food source. I’ve seen several skirmishes and chases this summer – they seem to occur almost daily. I have added several different areas with red, blue and pink flowering plants (beebalm, cardinal flower, blue lobelia, etc.) in the hopes of diffusing these territorial disputes. There’s enough for everyone!
I forgot all about this plant, since it has long ceased blooming and obedient plant, butterflyweed and blue lobelia have crowded the border and are demanding attention from the eye and the brain. The picture is from early July. The plant is about a foot high. The flowers, of which there are a few, sit atop a single stem. The kicker is that the flower is a rather insignificant greenish-yellow thing. The red color is from leaves (also called bracts) just below the actual flowers. Yes, I was fooled by that too. Another noteworthy fact about indian paintbrush is that the plant is known to be parasitic – the roots attach themselves to roots of other plants to obtain nutrients. I am not sure whether it prefers certain species of plants or if its parasitic tendencies are less discrete – since I planted them they did not have much of a choice in host selection. The plant is a biennial that produces a large amount of little seeds. Let’s see where (if) it pops up next year.
I brought 3 of these plants home in April, after a visit at NEWFS Garden in the Woods in Framingham. There was not much more to go on than a few basal leaves and the attendant mentioning that “these” would get very tall. That was enough to intrigue me and I put them next to the porch, where they would get ample sun most of the day, and much more if they kept their promise to rise up high – if that was the case they would get some bonus sunlight peeking over the roof of our house. Sawtooth sunflower did not disappoint. They are now decidedly over 6 feet high with one or two stems reaching well over 8 feet. I read that the height as well as the shape of the leaves varies widely between different populations. Density of a population also determines height: Lone plants tend to get much bigger, often to 11 or 12 feet. A plant produces multiple stems with layered sawtooth leaves. Once the first flower blooms, new buds appear, and these rise a half a foot above to flower. This process is repeated a few more levels. Now in full bloom Helianthus grosseserratus is a favorite of bees, and it has an attractive smell that will entice human noses as well. I will need to keep an eye on mammals who are known to feed on the large leaves.
Although an order of the Arachnids, harvestmen (or Opiliones) are NOT spiders.
- harvestmen are scavengers. Spiders are predators
- harvestmen have no venom. Spiders do
- harvestmen don’t build webs. Many spiders do
- harvestmen have one pair of eyes (although a few species have none). Spiders have 3 or 4 pairs. (Better to hunt with)
- harvestmen have a fused body. Spiders have a distinct torso and abdomen
Of course, this is over-simplifying things a bit. But it should give you enough info to think about NOT squashing this beneficial creature. Not that you should be killing spiders either…
Hate to say it, but the summer is fleeting by quickly. Wetter than usual, and shorter than usual – that’s how I’ll remember it. It is not too soon to capture and post the moment. Before too long we’ll be reminiscing by the fire after shoveling out the driveway…
Tall coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and scarlet beebalm (Monarda didyma) making the most of some late June sun…
Black-eyed susan recovering nicely after being decimated last summer and fall by a family of groundhogs…
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) on the east side of the house (morning sun only)