We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Tuesday, January 14. 2020
Diego, the Tortoise Whose High Sex Drive Helped Save His Species, Retires. With the future secured, he’s finally going home. Good job, Diego.
He's been away from home since the 1930s. It's encouraging to know that you can be 100 and still turn on the gals. I wonder whether he will figure out how to survive in the wild.
Sunday, December 22. 2019
He is back to feeding on the sparrows at my bird feeder. Quite a sight to see him trying to swoop in low under the radar from his perch, then chasing a bird through the bushes with much thrashing around.
Most of his attacks fail, but clearly enough succeed to keep him around. I sometimes term my bird-feeder a Sharpie-feeding station. Somebody should call PETA, because if I did these sorts of things to little songbirds, I'd end up in jail.
Each raptor genus is readily identifiable by profile, regardless of size, maturity, or species.
Saturday, December 14. 2019
The majestic American Chestnut, like the Elm, died off to various blights in the past century. You can still see the slowly decaying rust-colored Chestnut carcasses on woodland hikes.
The Chestnut was one of the basic trees of the northern USA climax forest, along with oak, beech, maple, walnut. Lots of good eats for wildlife.
When you buy those delicious roasted chestnuts on NYC streets, they are imported European chestnuts. A different, but related, species. I have planted a few Asian Chestnut hybrids, but man do they grow slowly. As they say, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.
A handful of American Chestnuts have escaped the blight thus far. In Cape Cod.
The good news for Americans of the future: How GMOs Might Save The American Chestnut Tree
Tuesday, December 10. 2019
Sunday, December 1. 2019
Tuesday, November 26. 2019
At the turn of the century, the Eastern Wild Turkey was nearly eradicated by hunting and habitat loss, and was entirely absent in the Northeast.
By the mid 1800s, the woodlands of New England had disappeared for farming, charcoal production, and lumbering.
But the woodlands have returned as farming moved west, and the wierd gobble now can be heard even in residential areas.
Thanks to dramatically successful conservation and transplantation efforts, there are now estimated to be 7 million of these huge iridescent birds, which Ben Franklin felt to be so quintessentially American that he wanted one on the US Seal. (Video of the turkey's comeback here.)
There are six species of wild turkey in the New World, and none elsewhere. (The domestic turkey is likely a descendent of the large Mexican species.) It is the Eastern which we feature here which has, in recent years, been transplanted successfully west of the Mississippi, and elsewhere.
As a sought-after game bird, the turkey's habits have been much studied. They are wary and cautious. In most areas, there is a spring and a fall hunting season for turkey, and they are pursued with bow or shotgun. It is the one game bird which it is sporting to shoot on the ground.
I have hunted them on a couple of occasions. Never managed to shoot one, though. Had a good time however, sitting at the base of a tree in camo, watching the other wild critters pass by.
Does the wild turkey taste different from a supermarket bird? Yes - the wild turkey tastes like turkey and the supermarket bird tastes like a supermarket.
Saturday, November 9. 2019
Planning an early Spring visit to Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp. A wildlife trip, kind of rustic in the Georgia wilderness. You have to go before bug season. It's way north of the Everglades (also a fine place to visit).
I like Georgia. Not moving there, but a fine place to visit and the southern food is amazing.
Natural History of the Okefenokee Swamp. 500,000 acres of blackwater swamp filled with gators and other Pogo critters.
Here's a Youtube:
Friday, November 8. 2019
Tuesday, November 5. 2019
Saw lots of Witch-hazel in bloom on one of our hikes last weekend. It's a subtle flower but glows in autumn sunshine. My photo came out poorly. Look for it on autumn hikes.
The name has nothing to do with witches. There are Asian versions which bloom in mid-winter, sometimes used for ornamental plantings. Witch-hazel waters, etc., have no real medicinal use.
Wednesday, October 30. 2019
A delightful read.
A baked or broiled chunk of Cod is a good test of a fine kitchen. Sad to say, Cod have been overfished to the extent that their historic populations may never be seen again - and I mean both the European and the western Atlantic populations.
Same issue with Haddock. Not sure I can tell the difference on a plate but a good Cod has thick flakes.
What about Fish 'n Chips? That means Cod or Haddock. For me, it has to be done right which means crispy but succulent, almost undercooked and fairly thick inside. It's easy to find terrible Fish 'n Chips and I have found lots of them. Worst ones in the UK, best one ever on the dock on Block Island. Malt vinegar, and beer are right with it.
Thursday, October 24. 2019
Audubon had a great time in the USA. A hero of mine. He was a fine diarist too. He also became a heck of a shot. What many do not know is that one reason his bird images are often in awkward positions is that he generally painted them from specimens he had shot.
As an aside, Roger Tory Peterson's prints are excellent too. Audubon was, of course, an inspiration to him. No dead birds.
Thursday, October 17. 2019
Tautog is a popular fish for recreational fishers - not really a sporty fish but a dining fish. It's no surprise that they are tasty because they live on molluscs and crustaceans. These guys (they are a Wrasse) live mainly from Cape Cod to Chesapeake Bay.
There's a limited keeping season for them: April, and then mid-Oct to mid November.
They are bottom-feeders, partial to rocky bottoms, underwater structure. Green crabs and clams are the best bait.
From a piece on Blackfish - Throw the big ones back:
Not a bad life. In youth, I would catch a few off the wreck outside Wellfleet Harbor. The one in the photo is huge, probably should be tossed back to breed but you can tell from that gal's face that she wants to eat it.
Friday, September 27. 2019
They are passing through, because I never see them here during summertime. I don't know why not. This morning I saw (and mostly heard) them around my gym's illuminated parking lot. That's a typical place for them.
Over the years, I have seen them around illuminated stadiums and in small towns.
You read all about them here.
Seen any lately?
Thursday, September 12. 2019
Friday, September 6. 2019
In a lifetime spent outdoors, I never knew that Yallowjackets stung. I just thought they bit. They only bothered me when getting in the way of my hamburger.
I've been bitten by them, but never stung.
Here's the wiki on these small wasps.
Here's some info from Healthline:
The yellowjacket is one of the most menacing insects known to man. These brightly colored wasps possess a fiery sting and bite seemingly out of proportion to their size. Yellowjackets are not 'bees', and they're definitely not friendly. So what makes them so dangerous?
1. They're aggressive. Yellowjackets are more aggressive than other stinging insects such as wasps, hornets, mud daubers or bees.
2. They can sting AND bite. Since yellowjackets don’t lose their stinger, they can sting numerous times, and will do so unprovoked. In fact, they usually bite your flesh to get a better grip as they jab their stinger into your skin.
3. They're defensive. Yellowjackets vigorously defend their nests. They will assign a "guard" to stand watch at the nest opening and alert the colony to a threat. Swarm attacks can occur when someone accidentally steps in, hits, or even comes too close to a nest. Attacks of hundreds of yellowjackets from underground nests can also be triggered by ground vibrations – thus, mowing lawns can be hazardous during the late summer season when colonies are large.
4. They sting you for no reason. Even if you're minding your own business and nowhere near a nest, yellowjackets don't care -- they'll sting you anyway!
5. They're scavengers. Yellowjackets are a common pest at picnics and other outdoor activities. They scavenge for meat and sweet liquids, which brings them into frequent contact with humans with ample opportunity to sting. (See #4.)
6. Their sting packs a punch. For people who are allergic, one yellowjacket sting can be deadly. But even if you don't have an allergic reaction, the sting is plenty painful. "Imagine WC Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue..." is how entomologist Justin Schmidt, creator of the "Schmidt Sting Pain Index", described a yellowjacket sting!
Saturday, August 31. 2019
Sunday, August 25. 2019
Friday, August 16. 2019
The Grey Fox is not a rare canid inhabiting much of the US and Central America. People know the Red Fox (imported from Europe for Virginia fox hunters before the Revolution) and the Coyote (which has invaded the Eastern US with the extirpation of the wolf), but few people know or ever see the crepuscular/nocturnal Grey Fox, a native canid.
I suspect that sometimes Grey Fox is mistaken for Coyote.
A cool fact about Grey Fox is their tree-climbing ability.
Friday, August 9. 2019
The Eastern and Central US has the Rough Green Snake (New Jersey and south) and the Smooth Green Snake, in the Northeast. These skinny bug-eaters are often referred to as "Grass Snakes," although both like to climb in vegetation.
They are so well-camouflaged that they are rarely seen, and they tend to freeze when disturbed. I think I once saw a Rough in a bush in southern CT, but I can't swear it was a Rough because it moved too quickly for me to grab it to check it's ID.
I love seeing snakes in New England. We don't have enough of them except for the regular Garter Snakes that always startle you when they are curled up in a Zucchini plant and the gigantic Black Snakes on stone walls and in the sand on Cape Cod. Did I ever mention the time my Mom killed a Milk Snake with a hoe (mistaking it for a Copperhead) while we batch of kids were playing in the grass? A mythical moment.
Rough Green Snake hunting in a Blackberry patch:
Saturday, August 3. 2019
Like most other bugs, their "adult" reproductive phases are usually brief - a week or two. However, their time as eggs, larvae (in this case, caterpillars), and pupae varies depending on species and climate.
Some even migrate (eg Monarchs) and some, like Mourning Cloaks, (photo) hibernate, which is why you sometimes see them fully-fledged on the first warm days of Spring. Tough buggers, live on tree sap.
How Long Do Butterflies Live?
Friday, July 12. 2019
Heard my first cicadas of the summer yesterday - just a few, and just for about an hour or two, but these are probably early risers - first emergers from the soil, practicing playing their instruments. Maybe this will be a good year for them.
Some people call them locusts.
It means that in a few days we will be hearing the remarkably loud raspy buzzing from the tree-tops on every hot sunny day - the characteristic sound of high summer in New England, until replaced by the more refined Katydid's evening song as late summer comes.
We have both 13-year and 17-year cicadas - that's how long the two species live as larvae underground, sucking on tree roots, before they emerge to mate, breed, and die.
Their life is a metaphor.
Cicadas are edible, but I don't know anyone who eats them regularly except birds who have great sport chasing them when they fly from tree to tree. We often find their empty exoskelatons attached to tree trunks - as they grow, they crawl out of their old coat.
Thursday, June 6. 2019
It is said that the D-Day armada witnessed a swarm of Hummingbird Moths (aka Hummingbird Hawk Moths) over the English Channel. Sign of good luck.
I recently planted a few Cleomes in the garden, partly to attract those moths.
I have only seen them at twilight, but it's said they are around in daytime too.
Sunday, May 26. 2019
You have probably never seen one, but this cat-sized member of the weasel tribe is not rare in New England woodlands. While famous for living on porcupines and squirrels, Fishers will eat anything they can catch (but they do not eat fish).
Yes, they like to eat house cats and poultry too.
"Due to its alert, secretive nature and solitary habits, most people have never seen this interesting predator. It disappeared from the state by the 19th Century due to agricultural land clearing. Fishers have since made an amazing comeback, and now live in populated areas that offer mature forest habitat and the squirrels it preys on."
More about Fishers.
Video of Fisher hunting Porcupines
Saturday, May 25. 2019
They do not mind cold water or warm water, but just follow the food. Below migration patterns of White Shark in the eastern US.
Most other sharks of the Northeastern US follow similar north-south migration patterns. While never common inland, Long Island Sound hosts Blue Sharks and Hammerhead Sharks in summer months.
Why are we seeing more White Sharks in the Northeaster summers these days? Because of conservation. The US Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 has resulted in dramatic increases in the numbers of Harbor Seals and Grey Seals. These blubbery critters, which can resemble humans in wetsuits, are favorite foods.
Other conservation efforts, such as limiting the trawler harvests of Menhaden ("Bunker"), have resulted in an abundance of food for sharks, seals, Ospreys, Eagles, porpoises, and dolphin. All of those critters historically lived in the southern New England seacoast.
Saturday, May 18. 2019
Seeing Endangered Whooping Cranes Step Through the Fog of Extinction -"I traveled to southern Texas to see a wintering population of the birds now 500-strong—a major comeback from just 15 cranes in 75 years."
These birds are similar to the very abundant Sandhill Cranes, and can interbreed with them.
Sandhill Cranes are huntable and highly edible. They taste like Swan, I am told. Do not shoot a Whooping Crane. The US has an eastern flock, and the famous western flock.
With a flock this small, conservation is promising but not guaranteed.
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