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.

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...