Saturday, July 28, 2012

To the Knob Again

Kodi and I hiked to Rattlesnake Knob again this morning, although an hour later at 9:30 am. It was still muggy, but hazy with some sun, so it felt hotter. The woods were different this morning, a day later and just an hour later into the morning.

The pewees called again, but seemed more muted; the hermit thrush was silent. I heard a red-eyed vireo and a chickadee. Climbing the steep part to the Knob, along the section of trail lined by many interesting plants--spleenwort, Christmas fern, hepatica, bear corn, among others--I saw millipedes. They were out foraging on detritus in the trail. I did not see them yesterday. They prefer dark, moist places, but perhaps the humidity brought them out to the trail. Here is one curled into a tight, protective coil with a chunk of detritus still in its mouth.
This is the common, North American millipede (Narceus americana), a beautiful 2-3 inch long, and thicker than a pencil, arthropod (not an insect) with reddish bands, and many, many feet. I saw three on the trail. There must be many more in the woods as they have much work to do, breaking down leaves, flowers, and other woodland debris and recycling the nutrients back into the soil.

The round trip hike to the top of Rattlesnake Knob takes one hour, with time for listening to birds, kneeling to see a millipede, pausing for a photo. On the return leg Kodi always trots ahead where I find him lounging in a cool woodland stream.
By 1:00 today the rain started. Finally a long, soil quenching rain that has continued all afternoon. This is a steady, straight down rain, soothing to our ears. We'll sleep comfortably tonight now that the rain has come.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Humid Forest

At 8:15 am, as Kodi and I hike to the top of Rattlesnake Knob, the woods are dark, like the fading light of dusk. The air is still and thick, my arms are clammy, Kodi is panting.

It feels like the tropics, reminding me of my 5-month stint banding birds in Panama in 1983, before anyone heard of Manuel Noriega. In those days, while I was out on Pipeline Road along the Panama Canal catching colorful birds in mist nets, Noriega was planning his military and political takeover of the country; he was elected (presumably) Governor of Panama six months after I left. My memories of the country are of birds, mist nets, the Canal, Barro Colorado Island, fresh fruit, cockroaches in our cupboards, a tapir, monkeys, and the humidity.

It is the humidity this morning that reminds me suddenly of Panama. As I listen to squirrels lurking among the oaks and beech overhead, I wonder what it would be like to have monkeys living among us. What would Kodi do with a troop of howler monkeys overhead? In Panama the howlers would throw sticks at us while we erected the mist nets. They were always a bit surly about us invading their territory. Still, it would be interesting to hear their loud howls boom through the forest. Kodi has no such thoughts about monkeys, as he sniffs for fox and their kin. He, I think, would not like such an addition to the biodiversity of these woods.

A deer snorts from over the rise, out of sight, and I emerge from my humidity-induced day-dreaming.  A pewee's clear song pierces the still air as we climb steadily to the top. A lone hermit thrush sings from the Knob. The humidity is high today, over 100 percent, the woodland birds are quiet except for the pewee and thrush.
The humidity and the view from Rattlesnake Knob reminds me of central Panama
In Panama we measured the relative humidity, as well as temperature and habitat features, as part of our bird study to learn if humidity affected bird distribution. I don't recall that we found any correlation with humidity. To me (and maybe the birds) it felt humid, regardless if we were in an upland forest or along a stream.

Here on Rattlesnake Knob among the normally dry, upland forest, it is decidedly more humid than is typical or comfortable. Everything waits for a rain. A few drops fall as we hike back down and return to the car, the raindrops gently tap the tree canopy. The rain disappoints, the humidity remains.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Clear Air and a Clearwing

Thunder rumbled through our area around midday yesterday. Kodi and I were walking in College Woods at the time. As the skies grew darker and soft rain started to fall we picked up our pace and ran the last hundred yards to the car; Kodi arrived first. We drove home through a heavy, if brief, downpour that was most welcome. According to the UNH weather stats it amounted to 1/4 inch of rain. It's a start to replenishing the parched ground; more rain is predicted later this week.

The air cleared overnight with the temperature and humidity dropping. This morning was breezy, sunny, and lovely. I harvested a large bundle of fresh coriander, our first green cabbage, and a half pint of blueberries. A perfect summer morning.

On my mid-morning yard walkabout I spotted a hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) on the purple bee balm. I paused to watch this colorful moth and the various bees gather nectar. One bumblebee was carrying large yellow sacs of pollen, so much that its flight seemed weighed down by the load.

Here is the clearwing, as it hovers like a hummingbird at the bee balm flowers.
The hummingbirds continue to focus on the red bee balm, almost exclusively. The red flowers though are fading and I wonder what the tiny birds will shift to for nectar. Robins, catbirds, vireos, kingbirds, and others visit the alternate-leaved dogwood. Crabapples have long been suggested as a good wildlife tree, but I've not had much luck attracting wildlife to crabs. The alternative-leaved dogwood would be my choice, especially since it also has beautiful form and doesn't require much if any pruning.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Wood Nymph

The common wood nymph (Cercyonis pegala) does not live in the woods, although it is common, especially in July. This past week I've been watching them bounce around wildflower meadows. They don't sit still too long especially if you try to get close. Even at a distance they are easy to identify: a dark chocolate body with a pale yellow patch that surrounds two eye spots on each forewing.
It is one of my favorite butterflies, perhaps because it is easy to identify, or perhaps because it was one I learned running around fields with a butterfly net as a kid. It's perky flight and brown and yellow wing pattern with the eye spots also makes the wood nymph a stand out.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Escape to the Yard

Kodi growled softly some time during the night. He was lying on his dog bed on the floor near our bed. He doesn't usually growl during the night, and except for the growl he didn't budge from his bed. I should remember that a low growl, however brief, means something. I walked out to the garden this morning to turn on the drip irrigation (it is still quite dry here) and noticed a few okra tops missing. I immediately looked over at the Swiss chard to see a few tall leaves that I was about to harvest gone. A deer jumped the fence again.

Fortunately there was minimal damage, but our fence with its streamers of colorful flagging has been penetrated. I think we'll just have to put up with a little bit of deer herbivory. There really is plenty to go around.
Although we didn't get around to hooking up the drip irrigation in the three raised beds in the backyard, the plants are lush and wild. I hand water every few days. Only the cucumber leaves are yellowing. The cantaloupes are full of buds, the zucchini and crookneck yellow squash yield fruits each day, the winter squash have set fruit, and the speckled swan gourd is flowering -- large snow white flowers.
The mother robin is still sitting on her nest. She and her mate are relishing the fruits of the alternative-leaved dogwood in the front yard.
This week I noticed more bees and dragonflies and butterflies buzzing and flitting about. Bees were busy in the purple bee balm while the hummingbirds continued to patrol the red bee balm for nectar.
Our yard and the gardens are a small oasis away from the ugly news that bombards us each day. Weeding and watering and moving wheelbarrows full of compost are a wonderful escape from the phone, the computer, and even the radio. A walk around the yard, smelling the flowers, watching a tiny spider hunt among a flower, even collecting Japanese beetles is my form of walking meditation. It works wonders for me.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Taking Stock in Mid-July

In the midst of a heat wave and on the verge of a drought, it seems like a good time to take stock of life in our yard - the birds and mammals, the good and the bad insects, vegetables, the fruits, flowers and herbs.

The drip irrigation in the main vegetable garden is keeping the crops watered, healthy, and producing. The sugar snap peas are fading a bit as they always do this time of year; peas don't like the heat. Yet I'm still harvesting plump, sweet pods daily, although with 90 degree days forecast for the coming week, their days are numbered. The chard and kale are lush and ready for any meal, they never fade. This morning I harvested our first tomatoes: two luscious sun gold tomatoes.
The robin is nesting for the third time, after two successfully fledged nests. She returned to the same nest under the deck. Robins are doing well. Two of my favorite bird visitors to our yard this year are a pair of ruby-throated hummingbirds and a pair of kingbirds. The hummingbird nest somewhere nearby every year. Someday I hope to see their thimble-sized nest. Mostly we see the female as she visits the red beebalm quickly slipping her slender bill into each flower. The pair of kingbirds is likely nesting at the edge of the wetland and visits our front yard in search of insects. They perch at the top of the pole bean poles, their dark gray back and black head contrasting nicely with their white breast and white-tipped tail. I enjoy their raspy, sputtering song.

Our six blueberry bushes produce a handful of nearly ripe berries each day, enough to accompany our morning bowl of granola. We pick them with a slight blush of pink, before the birds pick off the ripe berries. The peach trees are loaded, the chipmunks are leaving them alone now. There are still plenty of chipmunks in the yard and beyond. Chipmunks are doing well.

The Japanese beetle population is as high as ever. I've collected hundreds already this season, scooping them into a yogurt container of soapy water. They seem to have three favorite plants in our yard: American hazel, blueberry bushes, and evening primrose. The hazel is their favorite. The best time to collect them is in the morning, when they are a bit sluggish. The Japanese beetles are doing too well.
Fortunately garden pests so far are few. I've detected no tomato hornworms, potato beetles, cucumber beetles, and other pesky pests, for now. One has to be ever vigilant. I'm more worried about the dearth of bees, butterflies, dragonflies, and other native insects. The bumblebees were out in force a month or so ago, but have since disappeared. Dragonfly and butterfly numbers seem to be down. My friend Scott in Strafford is seeing similar trends.

My friend Joanne at the Yellow Dog's Barn asked me this week about crickets. She hasn't heard them chirping for several years now. That got me thinking the same. We usually get at least one black cricket in our basement, but probably not for several years. I've been checking around about crickets, but haven't heard about any population crashes. Scott said that the ground crickets emerged in May/June then disappeared with the heat. Srini says the deer flies are really bad this year. For some reason they don't bother me as much as mosquitos. Both are bothersome and doing well.

In general, the yard is looking good, except for the patch of grass over the septic tank which always dies about now. The effort to keep it green is not worth the effort or the water. I save that for the vegetables, which we can eat, and the flowers, which bring in the hummingbirds and bees and butterflies. The bee balm, shasta daisy, coreopsis, coneflowers, and yarrow are in full bloom.

I look forward to hearing from others about what is happening in your yard.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mt. Madison

Kodi had a great day yesterday, climbing his first 5,000-footer. We met up with three of our regular hiking partners--Kevin, Mike, and Jerry--to hike the Valley Way Trail to the Madison Hut and then up to the top of 5,366-foot Mt. Madison.
Srini and I have climbed Mt. Madison twice before, but this was our first time coming up from the north. The 8.4-mile round trip is the shortest and easiest route to the top of Madison, beginning at the Appalachia parking lot on Route 2 in Randolph. By 8:30 am the parking lot was already nearly full. However, there are many trails that lead from here up to the high peaks and other scenic destinations that the trail never felt congested with hikers.

Valley Way follows Snyder Brook with several side trails that take in a series of scenic falls. Kodi found deep, cold pools to cool off his black body and to slake his thirst.
Our hike was a slow, steady climb through northern hardwoods, then hemlocks, and finally through spruce and fir. We listened to black-throated blue warblers, Swainson's thrushes, winter wrens, and blackpoll warblers as we climbed.
Juts before emerging from tree cover, a few signs warn hikers to be prepared for adverse conditions and to help protect fragile alpine plant communities.
After four hours of hiking we emerged above treeline and arrived at the recently re-built Madison Spring Hut and looked up at the rocky cone of Mt. Madison. No longer protected by tree cover we quickly donned a few more layers including hat and gloves as winds whipped across the ridge.
We reached the hut at 1:00 pm; other hikers were heading up and coming down from the top of Madison. One couple just finished climbing all 48 4,000-footers and cracked open their champagne bottle at the hut. The 0.4 miles and 500 foot elevation gain from the hut to the top of Madison took less than an hour round trip. Kodi easily maneuvered up the slope among the huge boulders as we steadied ourselves against the wind, taking in the sweeping 360 degree views.

Looking down at the hut as we climbed.
A view north.
Cairns guide hikers through the mass of boulders to the top.
The windswept, delicate white flowers of sandwort grow among lichen-colored boulders.
The view south to Mt. Washington, with the auto road visible on the left flank.
Views from the top: the trail sign at the top;
Kodi and I celebrate our accomplishment with Mt. Washington in the distance.
As we descended from Mt. Madison we got a nice view of 5,410-foot JQ Adams
and the great mass of 5,799-foot Mt. Adams beyond.
Kodi takes in a final view as we descend back into the col
and to the hut, before the long hike down Valley Way and the end to a very fine hike.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Spleenwort

Kodi and I are at Winterberry Farm for a few days. We spend a few days here every month or so to help my parents with weeding and mowing, cooking and cleaning, pulling invasives. At least once during each visit Kodi and I hike up to Rattlesnake Knob to take in our favorite view of Long Mountain.
My sister and nieces are visiting too so the five of us made the hike. It was mid-day, just after a lunch of   paninis with the garlic scape pesto that I made several weeks ago. My nieces rallied for the hike despite a warm day although we slowed a bit on the steep part. Then they charged forward reaching the knob before the adults and the dog.

The steepest part of the trail is lined with many interesting plants. I see something new every time. Today it was an ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron), a slender fern with a dark red stem (rachis).

Small clumps of bear corn (also known as cancer root), Conopholis americana, lined one side of nearly the entire steep section of the trail. Since this is the only place I see this unusual plant, I look forward to finding it here each time.
Lower down the trail a toad blended into the dried leaves covering the footpath and striped pipsissewa grew nearby, its white flowers set to open. I enjoy finding the common and the uncommon on these woodland walks.
I mentioned in an earlier post that my SLR camera is on the blink and I've been relying on my iPhone for photos. The latter have been less than satisfactory, until just the last few days, when I finally downloaded the 99 cent app called Camera+, and so far I'm impressed with the difference. Perhaps readers can be the judge by letting me know how the pictures in this post look, taken with Camera+. I was researching point and shoot cameras, one that I could fit in a shirt pocket, but the iPhone may suffice for awhile.

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