Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Turkey Dinner

By now readers familiar with my blog know that I sometimes write about dead things. Mostly these are animals that I find on my walkabouts. And I learn a lot from seeing an animal, or parts of an animal, up close when it's not moving. So, I like to share these findings.

Early last week Kodi started sniffing the air in the backyard. More than usual. We thought it was our compost bin or a neighbor's barbecue. Then a few days back he wandered into the woods behind our brush pile. When I went looking for him I found him near a large pile of turkey feathers. This is what he had been smelling--a dead turkey.
More feathers were strewn farther along in the woods--
patterned wing feathers and iridescent breast feathers.
Several clues identified the turkey as an adult male:

Rounded or worn tips to the wing feathers, with white all the way to the tips, indicate an adult turkey
(young turkeys have pointed wing tips and no white near the tips)
And it was a male--a long hair-like cluster of modified feathers (called mesofiloplumes), "the beard" was lying in the pile of feathers. Males grow a longer beard from their chest as they age--and this was a long beard. Young males are beardless and females rarely grow them.
A few other male clues: a partial leg with a spur (sorry if this starts to get a little grim); males use these to spar with other males, and black-tipped breast feathers (females have buffed tipped feathers).
Kodi discovered some of the bones nearby resting next to a large canine scat (I'll spare you the photographic details). I'm assuming this was a coyote-killed turkey. The tom turkey clearly did not make it to his night tree roost in time or he got up too early.

We were not surprised at this outcome however. One of our neighbors started feeding turkeys and deer this past winter. Two flocks of 6-7 male and female turkeys and 5-6 deer visited daily. Unfortunately feeding them only concentrates the turkeys such that predators can more easily find them. I don't mind that a coyote killed a turkey--they are part of our local food web--but would rather our neighbors not feed the prey. And for deer, their stomachs are not designed to eat corn and other grains in winter. Plus the deer have demolished everyone's arborvitae.

This was likely the male turkey that was displaying in our backyard a month ago. His small harem of females are probably on nests. They are secretive now, and next year a different male will come courting.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Pickerel Frog

I love finding little surprises when I'm weeding my gardens. Last weekend it was a quarter-sized painted turtle hatchling that crawled across our driveway. Yesterday evening (and what a lovely evening it was), while I was weeding the perennials, a large, robust pickerel frog hopped out of a clump of moist leaves.

Pickerel frogs are common, but no less beautiful because of their abundance. They have dark, squarish spots on their back and legs, and bright yellow thighs. The yellow color may be a warning to others (such as snakes or other predators) that its skin is toxic.
Pickerels breed in April and May, laying their eggs in woodland wetlands, then moving into nearby moist fields or meadows or roadside ditches. This one was far from the wetland and near the road, so breeding season must be over for her. I say her because females are a bit bigger than males and this was a big frog. She will keep me company all summer, as I work in the flower beds, weeding, thinning, and planting.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day Weekend

The weekend started off with a cold front Friday afternoon followed by a warm rain Saturday morning, and an even warmer Sunday morning, which together brought in some new birds: scarlet tanager and several warblers: black and white warbler, yellow, northern parula, black-throated blue (zoo zoo zoo zree). The morning chorus is getting more complex by the day and harder to differentiate the myriad songsters. On our morning walk we heard and saw a scarlet tanager. Its striking scarlet body and black wings and tail are in sharp contrast to its un-melodic, harsh 4-5 note song. The tanager is still stunning and with trees not yet leafed out, it stuck out in a sugar maple.

A quarter-sized painted turtle crawled across our driveway yesterday. Every spring we spot one of these little guys making their way from an overwintering nest to the big wetland behind our house. They are adorable at this size and we wonder how any of them make it to the relative safety of a wetland, several hundred yards away.
Wildflowers are popping up too, especially with the recent May showers. The diminutive dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) and Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) were two of my favorite sightings in the Saturday morning rain.
Dwarf ginseng
Jack-in-the-pulpit
And the tulips popped open this sunny Mother's Day morning (hint: don't forget about your mother).

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Garlic Mustard Pesto

I got the idea for garlic mustard pesto from a friend at the Hanover (NH) Garlic Mustard Muster several weeks ago. That event, attended by 50 people, was to rally interest in and enthusiasm for volunteer-driven garlic mustard pulls in the Upper Valley. It certainly inspired me to plan, host, and help at several garlic mustard pulls in the NH Seacoast.
In summer, I make basil pesto and cilantro pesto, but had never thought about pesto from the invasive biennial garlic mustard, until I tried Barbara Mcilroy's pesto at the Muster. It was good and I asked for the recipe: 3-4 cups packed garlic mustard leaves (well-rinsed), 1-2 cloves garlic, ~1 cup parmesan cheese, 1 cup walnuts, ~1/3 cup+ x-virgin olive oil, and salt to taste; all blended.

On Monday I took two of my colleagues, Malin and Haley, to a patch of garlic mustard growing in a ravine on the University of New Hampshire Thompson Farm. We spent less than an hour pulling the plants, saving a basket full of the leaves for my own pesto experiment.

 The patch of garlic mustard that we pulled at the Thompson Farm and
Malin and Haley's smiling faces after we finished.
I made the pesto last night and took it with me to a garlic mustard pull on the UNH Campus. One of the UNH students' favorite professors is Dr. Tom Lee. For several years he has invited his conservation biology students to help pull garlic mustard at the edge of College Woods. I joined them this year, from 10-11:30 am this morning. Tom brought coffee and donuts, I brought garlic mustard pesto (from leaves harvested the day before at Thompson Farm). I think the students ate some of the donuts, but to my delight they enthusiastically tried and loved the pesto too!
The students (about a dozen) were awesome and together (17 of us in all) we pulled 3 garbage bags worth of garlic mustard, cleaning out this site for another year.
At least 5 students took a bag of leaves home to try making their own pesto. Here they are gleaning the bags of pulled plants roots and all for just the kidney-shaped leaves.
These are great students (and thanks Tom Lee for being such an inspiring teacher for these students)--spending a few hours on this effort, in between the end of classes and the start of finals. They all made my day.

Back at the office, Malin and Haley were psyched about the pesto too, since they had pulled the source plants. If you want to make your own garlic mustard pesto, let me know, and I'll find a garlic mustard pull near you that just might need some extra hands.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Castle in the Clouds

Some days I realize how lucky I am, to spend time walking about a property, taking notes and pictures, then back in my home office writing a plan, or as I prefer to call it a story about the property. Some properties are more interesting than others, but regardless of the size I always see or hear interesting things on my walkabouts. My current project--the 130-acre Castle in the Clouds in Moultonborough, NH--has many interesting facets, not least of which are its history and the stunning mountaintop views.
I am writing a wildlife habitat and land stewardship plan for the Castle Preservation Society, the non-profit that owns and manages this property. But most people visit this site to tour the historic castle and carriage house and grounds, to get married on the castle lawn, or to hike one of the many trails on the surrounding 5,000+-acre Castle in the Clouds Conservation Area (owned and managed by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust).

The Castle in the Clouds is open year round to hikers, but the castle tours and associated public events are only from mid-May to October. When I was there last Friday, the place was bustling with staff and restoration experts, and some hikers and local elementary students, but I mostly got to explore the place on my own without the more than 50,000 people that visit in summer. I started my tour at the top --walking around the carriage house, the trolley road, and the castle grounds. Even in these more developed areas of the property, I noted the nesting phoebes, the call of a northern flicker, the trailing arbutus, saxifrage, stunted oaks, tall pines, and the castle.
Below the mountaintop home (built by shoe manufacturing millionaire Thomas Gustave Plante in 1914 for his wife Olive), is a large field (some of which is mowed late in the summer to accommodate nesting birds), Shannon Pond, Shannon Brook, a stable and pastures, and mostly undisturbed woodland.
There is something for everyone here at the Castle in the Clouds, and I am grateful that I get to spend some quiet time exploring all the nooks and crannies of the castle and the woodlands (I highly recommend a visit).

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Fresh Look After the Rains

The weather forecast was a bit off today. It called for heavy rain, but that ended during the night. Light mist persisted into the morning, but by early afternoon sun, blue sky, and pretty white clouds emerged. And the black flies too, but that is okay since it feels warm and spring-like, and everything looks refreshed from the recent rains, including the woodlands.
My arugula has sprouted in the garden and something is messing with my pea seeds that I planted last week. Probably a chipmunk. It is too nice an afternoon to get flustered about the chippys. Anyway, I like to see them running across the lawn with cheek pouches bulging, until they start eating my tomatoes, but that is months away.