Monday, December 29, 2014

December End

Near normal, colder temperatures just arriving to close out December. For the past week, the thermometer barely dropped below freezing at night and daytime temps reached high 40s to low 50s. Colder weather will ring in the New Year, then a storm looks to be brewing for the weekend. However, longer range forecasts predict a warming trend again by mid to late January.

As the warm weather lingered through much of December, signs of more spring-like conditions were evident: a guy running in shorts, motorcycle riders, cyclists, active chipmunks with cheek pouches stuffed with seeds, open water everywhere, a great blue heron, mud, fog, deer ticks, green grass growing in our yard.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from Champlain Valley

Christmas Day: mid 40s, a hint of blue sky, icy driveways, and spectacular views from the farm fields of Charlotte, Vermont across Lake Champlain to the snow-capped Adirondack Mountains.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

Well, it won't be a white Christmas and it won't be cold. The high temperature forecast for Christmas day in Newmarket is 56 degrees Fahrenheit, and a third day of rain, sometimes heavy.

The woods are wet. The ground is soggy. Mosses, mushrooms, and lichens are flourishing in this temperate rainforest of December 2014.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Winter's Eve

A sloppy December so far, mostly rain and fluctuating temperatures. The ground is bare and barely frozen. The weather forecast for Christmas Eve predicts heavy rain and a high temperature of 51 degrees Fahrenheit. A white Christmas it will not be.

Tonight, this winter's eve, we welcome the longest night of the year and the approach of a new moon on Tuesday. On our pre-dawn walk with Kodi and Henna this morning, the air crisp and clear, our eyes wandered to the horizon and the sliver moon. In this phase, the old moon is said to be clasping the new moon. We paused to marvel at the dark star-studded sky, the hint of light on the horizon, the sliver moon, the quiet on a mid-December Saturday morning, before most people were stirring and shopping.

We went for a second walk with the dogs a few hours later, the temperature still below freezing, as it should be in December. Hoar frost decorated plants and a thin veneer of ice coated wetland waters.

A lovely winter's eve.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Season for Sage

Sage is my favorite garden perennial. I have 4 or 5 or them--Salvia officinalis-- among the asters, coneflowers, daylilies, phloxes, astilbes, grasses, and other plantings. The sages remain vibrant into late fall. The annuals have withered and most of the perennials have gone to seed, although their pods and cones add character to the garden in the colder, gray days of November and through winter. I used to cut the perennials to the ground as part of fall clean-up, but my friend and landscaper Patty Laughlin at Lorax Landscaping, says let it all be. It's good for the plants and the animals. So now I enjoy the perennial beds year-round, and especially in fall before the snow covers it all in white.
Milkweed pods open and spread their seeds to the wind,
carried aloft by a tuft of silky hairs.

A spent coneflower, dry and faded, offers seeds to birds.

Tall switchgrass provides a lush and attractive backdrop to the garden and woodland edge.

A daylily seed pod--split open to release its seeds--adds character to the late fall garden.

And then there is the bright and fresh sage, with its gray-green, pebbly leaves.

Tis the season for sage, the small leaves to be gathered and chopped and added to the turkey stuffing at Thanksgiving. It is so delicious and essential to stuffing, I wonder why I don't use it year-round in other dishes. Maybe 2015 will be the year to explore sage in more detail. For now, it is one of the four essential herbs--parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (for those Simon & Garfunkel fans)--that are a must for any kitchen garden.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ticks and Keds

A week ago I was wandering through a local conservation area, gathering information on plants and animals for a stewardship plan. It was dry and brushy and full of small blacklegged ticks. I picked them off my pants as I walked. Later I checked my body carefully for any hitchhikers. These are the ticks that cause Lyme disease and New Hampshire has the dubious distinction of having the highest incidence of the disease, especially in the coastal region, where I live and work.
A female blacklegged tick on my pant leg.

Several species of ticks are common in NH: blacklegged (formerly called deer tick), dog tick (sometimes called wood tick), and winter tick (the one causing moose a lot of grief). Of the three, it is the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) that is spreading Lyme disease and more recently two other diseases that can affect humans: babesiosis and anaplasmosis. So, even more reason to be extra careful in the woods and to do a full body check (including head) when you get home.

Yesterday I purposely went looking for more ticks, this time on deer. Dr. Alan Eaton, entomologist and tick expert at UNH is researching the distribution of blacklegged ticks in New Hampshire. Through the The Stewardship Network: New England (which I work for part-time) he's rallied a handful of volunteers throughout the state to help collect ticks off of deer brought into check stations by hunters.

To see how this was going, I drove west toward the Connecticut River to the deer check station at the Meridan Deli Mart in Plainfield. This country store has everything you need--groceries, snacks, lunch, gas, local news, and deer registration.

Dr. Eaton's map of blacklegged tick distribution in NH--
more towns added during this hunting season--
and tick and ked info sheet for hunters.

Hunters are required to register their deer at a check station. At the same time, NH Fish and Game biologists are there to gather data on the deer herd. They estimate the age of the deer (by looking at the teeth) and record its weight. A crowd usually forms to guess the weight before it is revealed. Often the hunters guess pretty well and then there are congratulations all around.

NHFG biologist Rob Calvert was gathering the data in Meriden. Ten deer were brought in before noon: 9 bucks and 1 doe. It was a little slower than Rob expected. He also thought there would be more does.

Rob Calvert estimates the age of the deer with a look at the amount
of dentine visible and wear on the molars.

Once Rob finished, volunteer Barbara Mcilroy from Hanover moved in to scan the neck and collect any ticks and keds (more on these later) in a small vial.

Volunteer Barbara Mcilroy from Hanover collects tick from harvested deer in western NH.

Alan Eaton was there too--he visits many check stations throughout the state to lend a hand and to chat with hunters about ticks. The hunters are eager to volunteer all the ticks from their deer, and usually about then they head into the Deli to get lunch. At the end of the season, Dr. Eaton will tally up the number of ticks from each town where deer were shot and the ticks will be sent to the Department of Public Health to analyze for Lyme disease.

Dr. Alan Eaton scans the deer neck for ticks (above),
while Barbara Mcilroy collects an engorged female deer tick.

And what about those keds. The deer ked is a blood-sucking fly that is native to Europe. It has been here awhile, but seems to be on the increase. They look a bit like a tick at first glance, but they move very quickly, although not quick enough to escape Alan's vials. For he is also studying the distribution of keds and deer are a handy source.

A ked
So, maybe this citizen science project is not for everyone--Barbara said she was having fun--but it's a neat collaboration among hunters, scientists, biologists, and volunteers who are not squeamish around ticks, especially ticks on dead deer. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Breezy Start

We woke at our usual time Sunday morning. That is to say, we forgot to fall back. It wasn't until we were sitting in front of the woodstove sipping our morning coffee that we realized it was only 4 am. Rather than fretting over the loss of an extra hour of sleep we were happy to have more morning time. Now, days later, we still wake up an hour early; it takes a long time for our internal clocks to adjust. Besides, early morning is the best time of day.

November started cold, rainy, and blustery. Scads of oak leaves, blown off their limbs by the wind and rain, scuttle across the road like crabs across a beach. A band of six bluebirds hangs out along the field edge, all puffed up to stay warm. Strong winds blew a squirrel nest out of a shagbark hickory tree onto the road. Kodi and Henna stuck their noses into the densely packed leaves, spilling out the squirrel's hoard of nuts.

We are burning through the wood, faster than we planned, and might need to buy another cord to make sure we don't run out in spring.
The skunk that we've seen scurry off on our pre-dawn walks has likely gone dormant for a spell, curled up in hollow somewhere. Squirrels and chipmunks are everywhere, constantly on the move stashing this year's big crop of acorns and hickories. I wonder what chipmunks did before we created stonewalls, wood piles, drain pipes, and culverts--some of their present day hiding places.

This morning, the day after midterms, is calm and peaceful. Except that my team lost big across the country, not too bad in NH. Seems like a good day to head into the field.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Raking Leaves

I raked lots of oak leaves (and tons of acorns) today, under a sunny, blue sky, before a stretch of rain sets in tomorrow. Kodi helped, sort of.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Garlic Planting 2014

We planted our garlic today: 500 cloves from this year's July harvest. Every year my Dad prepares the garden for the annual planting. He discs up a new plot roughly 4 feet by 50 feet. This fall he spent extra time discing, which helped a lot. The soil was soft and easy to hoe. Thanks Dad.
This year we also had extra hands to help. I, along with my sister, brother, niece and her husband, and nephew are visiting our parents this weekend. Everyone pitched in starting with breaking up the garlic bulbs into individual cloves. Usually each bulb contains 5-6 cloves. This year nearly every bulb had only 4 garlic cloves, but each was very large.
Our planting scheme is the same every year: five rows 50 feet long and spaced 9 inches apart. Within the row we plant the garlic 4 inches deep and 6 inches apart, resulting in 100 cloves of garlic per row.
Dad also picked up the two straw bales from a local farmer that we placed over the garlic patch, after covering each row with about two inches of soil.
This crop is now put to bed. From now until July it takes care of itself. The straws holds down weeds and keeps in moisture. We let Mother Nature take care of the watering. And we have the remainder of our 2014 crop--the remaining 300+ bulbs--for daily cooking until the 2015 crop is pulled. There is a dry spell from May-July when the garlic bulbs have begun to dry out and the new crop is not ready. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Baldfaces

On Sunday we hiked the Baldfaces: Baldface Knob, South Baldface, and North Baldface. The colors were glorious, the trails not too crowded, and the air was warm, actually a little too warm. We were parched by the end of our 10.5 mile hike, drinking nearly every drop of water that we carried.

We ascended via the Slippery Brook Trail, which branches off from the Baldface Circle Trail about one mile from the parking area in North Chatham. Slippery Brook is a longer and gentler climb than the more popular Baldface Circle Trail. We opted for the gentle, quiet route.

Along the upper part of the Slippery Brook Trail, 
lined with colorful hardwoods and hobblebush

For the first 4 miles we had the trails to ourselves. From Baldface Knob to North Baldface we encountered only a handful of people. A bit surprising since the views and colors were at their peak.

From Baldface Knob looking south to Eastman Mountain

Atop Baldface Knob, looking southwest to Sable Mountain

From Baldface Knob looking up at 3,570' South Baldface

The Baldfaces are all less than 4,000 feet, so not part of the White Mountain 48 4,000-footers. Yet they offer, in our opinion, some of the best hiking in the Whites, because they are bald, exposed, and wide open.

On the way to South Baldface

The views from the ridge between South and North Baldface are just stunning, especially looking northwest into the vast Wild River Wilderness to the Carter-Moriah Range and Mt. Washington beyond. The air was a little hazy (temperatures in the mid-80s), but not enough to mar the awe-inspiring views.

On the Baldface Circle Trail between South and North Baldface,
looking northwest all the way to Mt. Washington

A view east from the Baldface Circle Trail

The view from our lunch spot atop North Baldface

Trail junction: Baldface Circle Trail and Bicknell Ridge Trail

We hiked down via the Bicknell Ridge Trail, a long, hot, dry, but beautiful descent. When we finally reached a stream with running water, Kodi flopped down in a pool to cool his hot, black belly, then rested his head in the stream.

A large crowd of high school or college students were hanging around Emerald Pool, a popular swimming destination less than a mile from the parking lot. Otherwise, we encountered only a dozen people on the full hike, a pleasant surprise for one of the best fall weekends in New England.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Stick or An Insect?

When is the last time you saw a stick insect, or as I called it growing up (and still do)--a walking stick? It's been years, maybe decades for me. Last Friday while working with a group of volunteers on conservation land in Durham, NH, someone spotted a moving stick. We paused from pulling up bittersweet vines and honeysuckle shrubs to exclaim over the walking stick. Seven-year old volunteer Grace was happy pose with the 3-4-inch insect. After a bit we placed it gently back at the edge of the woods under some vegetation. It will likely be many more years before I see another, as camouflaged as they are and going about their quiet, nocturnal lives eating leaves.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Hornet's Nest

I've seen a lot of wasps this year: paper wasps, baldfaced hornets, yellow jackets. My approach to wasps, as well as bees, is to respect their nest sites, give them a wide berth, and leave them alone as much as possible.

Just the name of baldfaced hornets sounds ominous. They are actually not a true hornet, but rather a black and white yellow jacket, so named for their white or "baldface" head.

I marvel at the the large egg-shaped paper nest of baldfaced hornets. These are most noticeable after leaf-off, but I've seen several just in the last few weeks. Here is one on the branch of a large while oak tree overhanging a meadow of goldenrod, milkweed, and asters.
My parents have a lovely baldfaced hornet nest, I think, on the side of their house. Other family members are not so keen.

As long as you don't stir up the hornet's nest, all will be fine. After the first hard freeze, all the hornets except the newly mated females (future queens), will die. The future queens abandon their birth nest and bury into the ground or a log for the winter, waiting until spring to start a new paper nest of their own somewhere else.

Winterberry Bird Scat

A week ago--on a coldish January day--a small flock of robins ate all the berries from one winterberry shrub in our yard. They flew off as q...