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, July 2. 2013
They make them to fit your height, weight, and arm length. Pretty snazzy to own a bespoke scythe. They even make them for southpaws.
They have good choices of blades and accessories too, some for brush and saplings. (h/t, reader)
I don't know whether I would have the time or energy to scythe the 8-acre brushy hillside meadow which sits above the bridge, but it would be good for some areas that we can't get the brushwacker into due to slope or boulders.
One of my grandpas, a capitalist industrialist who hated paperwork and hated business, loved nothing more than a weekend day scything at the farm until the sacred cocktail hour. Then Dewar's on the rocks, well-deserved. Usually two of them; one for the blood and one to stimulate the appetite along with Pall Mall cigarettes or a Habanos ceegar. He taught my Mom how to use a scythe, and she taught me. We still have his pedal-powered grinding wheel in the barn with the water pan.
Nonetheless, I enjoy a gas-powered brushwacker. It's a good workout just to muscle that heavy machine around, and it shreds everything to bits, even 2" saplings. Leaves no swaths of cuttings to suffocate the grasses.
Monday, July 1. 2013
I got a consult from a local contractor who said it was a straightforward repair. He thought we could just jack it back up, add two I-beams to reach the far bank, and put in some cement blocks at low water in August to support the necessary extension. Around a $7000 job that he could do in two days.
But...he felt uncomfortable repairing it without a wetlands permit and an engineering OK. I explained that this bridge had been there for 60 years, and another bridge there for over 100 years before that, and that we had fixed it in the past without permits. He said I needed to consult an engineering firm to do the permitting and to ok his plan.
That has to be wrong, but instead of finding somebody else to consider the job, I did consult with a reputable local engineering firm. They inspected, and came back with an estimate of $27,000 for permitting and design, not including the actual repair. They said the permitting could take as much as two years, starting with the Army Corps of Engineers and ending with the Massachusetts Wetland Authority and the State and local DEP. Many hearings to be attended, apparently, by certified engineers. No guarantee, he said, that we could get a bridge repair permit in the end because the State wants "wild rivers." Mind you, this stream is in no way "navigable" except on barefoot, and is only as "wild" as a stream can be which winds through cow pastures and corn fields.
We do not have that kind of spare money in the farm's budget.
Meanwhile, one mile down the road, the state is widening a 1936 one-lane WPA cement bridge, about 20' long, over the same small river - a trout stream, really. Bulldozers, cement mixers, portapotties, portable office, road grinders, asphalt rollers, trucks, etc. Stimulus money. Modern infrastructure for a town of 600 permanent residents and more dairy cows than people. They have been working on it for four months, and it seems nowhere near done.
One problem is that we are required by our agreement with the local land trust to maintain the upper meadow with an annual mowing. We want to do that anyway. We can't get there now. There is no other way to get across the stream with a tractor because at least one side of the riverbank is always fairly high.
No wonder people get pissed off at government. However, I never consulted any government on this.
It's just a simple, ordinary repair. Property maintenance. I am sorely tempted to ask some illegal Mexicans to just come in with two 6' I-beams, a jack, a welder, and some cinder blocks to fix it. Nobody would notice - or care. No, you can't see it from the road. I'll find someone who wants to help me fix it the old-fashioned Yankee way: patch it and make it last.
This ain't the Brooklyn Bridge.
Monday, June 24. 2013
I had the pleasure of seeing a Least Weasel scurry past the front of the garage yesterday, going from one pachysandra patch to another. They are not uncommon in their multi-continental, northern-hemisphere range, but I rarely see them. It makes me happy when I do.
Most often, they are seen hurrying across a country road.
Least Weasels like to be in cover, not out in the open. They are both daytime and nocturnal hunters, and active all winter in the snow, when they have all-white fur.
They are said to be the world's smallest mammalian predators, around 8-9" long. Bloodthirsty little guys.
On further thought, that guy could have been an Ermine. Not sure I can tell the difference because they move so quickly.
Tuesday, May 28. 2013
Across some of our farm fields. After a cold, rainy day the clouds began to clear out, leaving fresh snow on top of the Berkshire hills and a frost on the grass. That's our Climate Change. We had spent the afternoon providing a much-needed, if late, pruning to the apple trees (not in photo). I like a fruit tree to have plenty of air and light in the middle, remove crossing branches, but the darn suckers take most of your time.
Also put up 6 new Bluebird houses. On Sunday morning, one had already been claimed. Birds are not stupid. They pay attention.
Tree on the left? Black Willow, on the riverbank. Looks like we're going to have a herd of yearling Black Angus in that field this summer. Very handy, because they can go down to the river to drink and will need no care other than fence maintenance (which is obviously needed). Plenty of grass. Barbed wire.
Our farm boasts the lack of several modern amenities: no shower, just old bathtubs; no TV; no cable; no internet; and you have to get on the tractor and drive up a hill to find a cell phone connection. Peaceful. The only radio we get is NPR from Albany. They are crazy, but have good music. The wallpaper is 70 years old but my Mom liked it. There is more to life than materialism and conveniences and comfort, and my Mom understood that, deeply. We did break down and install propane heat 2 years ago. Decadent, but welcome after a cold rainy day when you come in soaked.
We're 20 minutes from Tanglewood. That's a good thing. Civilized. Cold lobster and champagne on the lawn.
Sunday, May 19. 2013
North America hosts a number of species and subspecies of Cottontail Rabbits. Around here, we have the Eastern Cottontail. (There is also one named the New England Cottontail, but I could not tell the difference.)
They are most abundant here in the later summer and fall, but their numbers nosedive during the winter mostly due to predation by owls, hawks, coyotes, and Red Fox. The cottontails' position on the food chain leads to an annual survival rate of around 20%.
When we see one hop out of its nesting "form" when mowing, we mow around it.
Here's a list of the rabbits and hares of North America
Saturday, May 18. 2013
The forest-dwelling, nondescript and rather common Broad-Wing is rarely seen except during fall migration. They hang out quietly in deep woods and rarely soar except during migration. I saw one the other day, probably on his way north. They breed in woodlands across the Eastern US and Canada, migrate to South America in large flocks.
Friday, May 17. 2013
It's a topic of great concern and interest to me. We have already seen serious depletion of some fish species (eg Halibut, Atlantic Cod, others). It's a free-for-all, and the scarcer the fish get, the higher the prices they fetch.
Saturday, May 11. 2013
I suspect they tasted very good.
They are on their way north to raise their chicks in the tundra and boreal forests right now, and will begin to trickle back down in August on their way to the Southern US and South America.
Experts can tell a Greater from a Lesser by call or bill length, but I find it difficult unless they are in a mixed flock. Sometimes they are in flocks, sometimes solo.
Nice birds found in the nicest places: marsh edges, mud flats, water edges, etc.
Friday, May 3. 2013
Here's a video report about Little Saint Simons Island, with some outdoor video with our friend, the young naturalist Abby. It's a good video.
Travel and Leisure Magazine lists the place among the 500 best hotels in the world, and it's in that book, 1000 Places to See Before You Die.
A few more of my pics and comments about the Georgia barrier island.
Salt Marsh, early morning. Despite its short coastline, Georgia has 30% of the north Atlantic coast salt marshes. They go on for miles and are enormously productive. Very productive of Salt Marsh Skeeters too.
Lots more fun pics below the fold, with critters, Southern food, etc. -
Continue reading "A free ad for Little Saint Simons Island, Part 2"
Thursday, May 2. 2013
My list from last week's Georgia trip, as I can best recall. The experts identified quite a few more than I could and went home with longer lists.
The mix of habitats is the key. The 7 mile-long island's habitats include ocean beach and dunes, salt marsh, a 30-acre fresh water marsh impoundment, Wax Myrtle scrub, and maritime forest.
A few comments for you bird people: There is no big warbler migration down there. I don't know why. It must be fly-over country for them. Also, there are no ducks now - they headed north a couple of months ago. There are no Bob White Quail and essentially no Wild Turkey. Seems perfect for them, but they are not there. Snakes are tough on ground-nesting birds.
That's not my photo. That's a Painted Bunting, quite common down there.
Birding is, I read, the fastest-growing hobby in the US. It gets people outdoors and moving and it can be as challenging as you desire. Expertise in anything knows no limit.
My list below the fold for those interested. An asterisk means a first for me.
Continue reading "My bird list from Georgia"
Wednesday, May 1. 2013
My snap above is the main lodge. As I mentioned previously, it's a barrier island accessible only by small boat.
What sorts of people would spend serious bucks to inhabit rustic cabins built in 1910 on the edge of a swamp with far fewer amenities than home, the air full of skeeters, Diamondback Rattlers and gators roaming around, no elegant plantings other than God's, simple home cookin, no umbrella drinks, and where the evening entertainment is an academic talk on bird migration?
Well, as Mrs. BD pointed out, it can be expensive to get that old-timey vigorous WASPy in-the-woods time these days in remote places. A condo on a beach with WiFi and TV, hotel menus, and Pina Coladas and lounge chairs around the pool would be less than half the price tag, but boring as heck. She believes that my Yankee-types, as a matter of taste, like either grand luxe or rustic roughing-it, and nothing in-between. Probably right. In addition, we do not like to sit on vacations. Go Go Hi Ho.
As she also pointed out, the price at Little Saint Simons is all-inclusive - all meals (no menu choices, of course - family-style), all of the naturalist adventures, all the boats and kayaks and bikes, all the booze and cocktail hours and oyster roasts and shrimp boils at the beach. And the entirely private 7-mile island, just for you. Chef is a grad of the CIA (Culinary Institute of America for those of you in Yorba Linda) but he does home cookin like his grandma.
So who was there (all with spouses)? A self-selecting elite bunch of folks. A recently-retired career Army Ranger from Colorado who discovered an interest in natural history. A retired Memphis cotton broker. A NYC doctor. A high school teacher couple from Salt Lake City. An 8th-grade Science teacher from Michigan. A famous nature artist from Massachusetts. An Ornithology prof from Georgia Southern (not a railroad - a university). A professor of something from Boston. A fund manager from Chicago. A jolly, congenial, and intelligent crew, and a tattoo-free zone for sure. Lots of laughs at mealtimes.
Despite the skeeters, they have a high repeat rate. I would recommend March-April-May or October for a place like this. Too hot and too many bugs in the summertime - for me, anyway.
Our temps last week were daytime highs around 76 and nights high 50s-low 60s. Constant sea breeze. Perfect.
I remarked to Mrs. BD that it must be a rare "resort" vacation spot indeed where, when one of the resident naturalists asks for a show of hands for the next morning's 7 AM birding in the marsh, almost everybody present raises their hands.
"Meet at the trucks at 7 on the dot."
More boring travelogue pics and nature details below the fold -
Continue reading "A free ad for Little Saint Simons Island, Part 1"
Saturday, April 27. 2013
Heard a Screech Owl calling early in the morning last week. I hope he finds the nest box I put up. They didn't find it last year.
The tiny Screech Owl lives across America, as long as there are plenty of trees around. If you want to attract a family of them to live at your place, put up a nest box for them. They do not mind living in suburban areas. I recently learned that they are breeding in New York's Central Park.
Now would be the time to do it. The box pictured is from Best Nest.
From this site:
I greatly enjoy hearing them at night. A Great Horned Owl hooting had done the same to me a few weeks earlier. Good stuff. The mysterious world of the night.
Wednesday, April 17. 2013
We can enjoy dogs, but cannot truly love them because we cannot know them: Man and Beast.
Thursday, April 11. 2013
The Chippies arrived here today, up from their wintering grounds in the deep south. You don't need binoculars to identify a small sparrow sitting high in a pine tree, even if he is not delivering his territorial chipping call.
They breed throughout most of the US.
Friday, March 29. 2013
In March, our White Throated Sparrows and Juncos begin heading north to their breeding grounds, and our Song Sparrows begin arriving from their winter haunts somewhat further south in the US.
It is theorized that the guy with the best song gets the hottest chicks.
Thursday, March 28. 2013
In recent years, factory ships have, in just a few years, stripped the Northeast of our vast schools of Bunker (Menhaden) with the use of helicopter spotters. Those schools are foundational to our big fish.
The fishing industry of the Northeast US cleaned out the George's Bank populations years ago, pretty much emptied out the inshore Cod and Haddock populations, and is headed in the same direction with the Grand Banks. Furthermore, their trawls vacuum the sea bottom of every living thing, leaving a desert behind. Like strip-mining.
While I admire professional fishermen very much for their skills and daring, just as with hunting wild animals there have to be sustainable limits or the Cod would go the way of the buffalo and the Passenger Pigeon.
We posted about Atlantic Shad yesterday. Here's an article discussing why the once-great Hudson River Shad fishery was shut down a few years ago.
Image below: Atlantic Shad
Sunday, March 24. 2013
As we head into Spring with snow still on the ground and snow predicted for tomorrow, here's what I'm seeing here in Yankeeland:
As my brother and I were beginning to clean out the parents' garage, at my Dad's request, yesterday, we found 8 wren and Bluebird houses. I'll put a few up here at the HQ, and the rest at the farm on my next trip up. We have a large Bluebird contingent up there but they have to compete with the Tree Swallows for the nest boxes. Birds compete for housing, just like people.
Saturday, March 16. 2013
Cute Rodent of the Week: Eastern Chipmunk, re-posted because my Chipmunks arose from their long winter sleep yesterday
This has been a great year for rodents in Yankeeland. I've never seen so many bunnies (Cottontail Rabbits) or Chipmunks around. Maybe somebody shot the Coyotes?
Like other ground squirrels, these cheerful little fellows don't climb often, and live in tunnels.
Mine have some burrows under my garden shed, and some live in a rock pile. They are rather tame, but the dog doesn't seem to be able to catch them. They like the free lunch of seed that falls off my bird feeder tray, so I can watch them poking around two feet from my window.
At Mohonk Mountain House in the Catskills (short video of that wonderful place here), they have always had a number of little Victorian-style chipmunk houses around the place. Like doll houses, but sturdy and shingled. They seem to like those houses.
When I was a kid I caught one in a Havahart trap and tried to tame it, but that plan did not work and I finally let it go. Sharp teeth, and loves freedom and independence.
You can read more about these fine critters here.
Sunday, March 10. 2013
I agree with Anthony Watts that this TED talk is remarkable.
Feel free to punch holes in his argument, but based on his examples it seems to work dramatically - watch his example in Mexico. A guy who exterminated 40,000 elephants by mistake deserves to be listened to.
On a micro, non-desertification level, I have noticed that the quality of the grasses on one of our 50-acre fields at the farm has deteriorated visibly since we have not had cattle there. Of course, our New England meadows are naturally woodlands and not natural grasslands.
Painting on top from this site.
Saturday, March 2. 2013
Vermont Woodchuck sent me this pic of a male Wood Duck, taken in March a few years ago in Armonk, NY. He says the duck waddled right up to him.
This is an annual reposting:
Just a few weeks left to get your new Wood Duck houses up, and, if you want to place your boxes in water, it's easier to do if you can walk on the ice and punch a hole to hammer a post into the shallows. That is, if you have any sturdy ice.
The males arrive to their breeding grounds in March, and hunt for nesting boxes and holes and crevices in trees before the gals arrive in April.
If you have a stream or fresh water pond or marsh nearby, they will welcome your effort. Remember, there is no limit to the number of boxes you can place in or near a marsh - these birds are not territorial. I try to add one each year.
I place them on dead trees in the beaver marsh, and nail a 3' aluminum flashing on the tree to deter coons and Blacksnakes. Some I put on a post in about 3-6' of water with a strong cement base. I always add a few inches of wood shavings on the bottom.
Our piece on Wood Duck here. I won't shoot a Wood Duck unless by mistake. They are highly edible, but too small. My joy is just to see them around.
The best wood duck houses: http://www.bestnest.com/bestnest/duck_houses.asp (fixed). I had planned to build a few more this winter, but I never got to it.
Here's the Ducks Unlimited site on building and situating Wood Duck houses.
Wednesday, February 6. 2013
It's not in as bad shape as Detroit, but Blue State and Blue (corrupt) local governance have driven most of the jobs away - along with vast numbers of middle- and working-class people. (The prosperous fled in the 50s and 60s.) Therefore, there is no "housing shortage." Housing is cheap, but they will kill you with the property taxes. Thus the old city has no vitality or appeal whatsoever except to urban explorers like us. Death spiral.
What does a pilot do in a death spiral?
The solution is not to bulldoze the city. It's to bulldoze the government. However, at this point the government is basically in the control of government unions and welfare recipients, all feeding on the dry bones of the cadaver. Thus, despite its amenities and opportunities, basically politically hopeless. It's sad.
If they appointed me Dictator of Bridgeport for a few years, I could begin to fix it. Change is good! The first thing I would do is to create a citywide enterprise zone with no corporate or business taxes. Second, I would cut property taxes in half. Might be tough going for a couple of years until markets react, and bankruptcy might have to happen because sometimes you need a fresh start. Third, I would eliminate all government housing. Rents are so low there, anybody can pay them on a welfare or disability check. Fourth, I would make government unions illegal. Fifth, I would prosecute the local Mob with vengeance, no mercy. Everybody knows who they are, and people claim they are in bed with the unions. Sixth, I would eliminate all zoning regulations. Seventh, I would make all schools charter schools - no government-controlled schools. Eighth, a cop or guard on every block, with stop-and-frisk. Well, I could go on and on, but the general idea would be to return such a city to the policies which existed when it became a thriving city, before the socialists, planners, and taxers took over when they realized they could tax and plan the place to death.
It would be an interesting experiment. If it failed (but how could it be worse?), I'd take the fall.
This row of old buildings appeared fully-occupied by Hispanic immigrants, neat, clean, and pleasant but nowhere to go except the abundant old churches, and no street life.
Government policies can kill cities. From Mead's New York No Longer Skyscraper King:
The northern states had wanted NYC as capitol. The compromise was reached on a swamp in Virginia.
Wednesday, January 30. 2013
It's a month or two early to post about bird migration, particularly passerine migration, here in the northern hemisphere, but I did find this excellent review of the most recent science on the topic:
Photo is our common Black and White Warbler, who will be passing through here, on the Atlantic Flyway, in May.
Thursday, January 24. 2013
By 1880, New England had been almost completely deforested. Moose, Wolf, Black Bear, and Wild Turkey were gone or limited to tiny habitat islands. Deer were rare. Then profitable farming moved west to the rich plains of Ohio and Indiana. Good-bye to rocky New England.
With reforestation, Moose and Wild Turkey have rebounded, and Beaver, Bear, and White-Tailed Deer have become pests in some areas. So have the highly-adaptable coyotes, who moved into wolf territory (coyotes were never native to the Northeast) and are now considered pests in New England with generous hunting and trapping seasons for eastern coyotes, coydogs, and coy-wolves if any.
Those critters are all Wolf food, including coyotes. Maybe not the bears.
The new coyotes of the Northeast are larger than those of Western US and Canada, may have a few wolf genes, and a large male is easily mistaken for Wolf or German Shepherd.
There is only one species of Wolf in the world - Canis lupus. The species has - or had - a global reach, with all of its various subspecies (subspecies means races - of which the domesticated Dog is one. The Grey Wolf and the Eastern Wolf are probably the same subspecies, but there is much controversy about wolf subspecies genetics).
All domestic dogs in the world were genetically engineered from the Eurasian Grey Wolf subspecies, including African domestic dogs, beginning around 14,000 years ago. Wolves - dogs - were domesticated before any other animal but your average wild wolf cannot be civilized, even if raised from birth by man. Humans must have found the rare wolf individuals with civilizable genetic flaws as in photo below:
North America's Grey Wolf was an immigrant across the Bering Strait from Siberia and, along with the Cougar, were the dominant predators across the entire US and subarctic Canada.
Dominant predators require large ranges of undeveloped land, preferably without roads and cars. The Cougars will have a tough time repopulating the Northeast, but the Wolves can come down from Quebec. In dribs and drabs, they have been doing so. Probably lone wolves. Visual reports are not reliable, but DNA testing is so the animal has to be shot or trapped to be tested to distinguish the animal from a coydog, a coy-wolf, etc. I don't know why coyotes and wolves can interbreed if they are separate species.
There are no records of confirmed Wolf breeding or pack-forming yet in New England, but these occurences would not be surprising, and would be welcome to many. Wolves remain common enough in Canada to have popular hunting seasons for them. Wolves leave people alone, unlike foolish Cougars who sometimes confuse a jogger with a deer and eat them up.
Here's one report from the Adirondacks
About wolves in Maine
Some reports re wolves in New England
Saturday, December 15. 2012
This northern chicken-like (gallinaceous) bird prefers first-growth areas, with access to water and open areas. I most often find them in aspen, birch or alder thickets, but they can be seen in piney woods, old orchards, ferny woods, and in streambeds. In regions where birch and aspen are the climax forest, they can be found everywhere or anywhere, but never in large numbers. They are most commonly encountered when they flush with a startling whirr of wings.
Once known as "fool hens" for their tameness, Ruffies have somehow learned to avoid human encounters once they have had contact with them.
These birds do not migrate, and winter very well, since they are very happy to thrive on tree buds all winter, especially protein-rich aspen and birch buds. Their numbers have been declining in the Northeast as the old farms have become either mature woods, or housing developments, but clear-cutting of mature woodlands is a great help to them, as it is to most species of wildlife (it imitates the natural effect of wildfire to regenerate forest succession, which is key to habitat diversity and thus species diversity).
The Ruffed Grouse is the noblest game bird in the US. Wary, they do not often hold to a dog's point and when they do flush, their flight assumes warp speed immediately and is unpredictable. (Gwynnie's theory is that they have a random-direction-generating gyroscope in their brains.) They have an uncanny talent for putting tree trunks between the hunter and themselves, or for flying at your face, or flying between you and you pal, whose life you may (or may not) value more highly than you value bagging a Ruffie. And even the most considerate hunters ( yes - you, Craig) will pop off a snap shot regardless of whose bird it is, and rightly so. You cannot wait with Ruffies.
Grouse hunters (a very special and scarce, and, to my mind, elite fraternity of intrepid woodsy folks who don't mind cuts, bruises, wet boots, and hours-long struggles through underbrush, raspberry patches, thorny thickets of hawthorn, and impenetrable streamside alder growths) require very quick reflexes and a high degree of "relaxed alertness", but they require, most of all, strong legs for all of the hours of difficult wilderness walking which is required to find these wonderful creatures. It is said that grouse "are killed with legs, not guns." Dogs help, a bit, but they are huntable without dogs. When a hunter finds one, they are generally very difficult to shoot such that every Ruffie is a trophy and is regarded as such. And they are also regarded as a rare gourmet treat, because, with their subtle woodsy flavor, there is no finer fowl for the table.
Why "ruffed"? The males have a dramatic black neck ruff which they display for courtship purposes, while they fan their tails and strut around like little Thanksgiving turkeys. Their courtship drumbeat from an old log is also one of their well-known features: many have heard their deep thumping from deep in the woods, and have no idea that it is just a horny male Ruffie looking for a date.
Read more about the wonderful Ruffed Grouse here. The very worthy Ruffed Grouse Society, which Maggie's Farm supports, pays for research on grouse and woodcock ecology, which benefits all woodlands and woodland creatures.
Friday, November 16. 2012
No, this is not about the national WTF? health care bill. While our Editor tends to focus on supporting Ducks Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy, both highly worthy volunteer organizations, I have been a supporter of the National Wild Turkey Federation for many years.
The recovery of the American Wild Turkey populations, like that of Egrets after the turn of the last century, has been a giant success of intelligent conservation.
Whether you want to shoot 'em and eat 'em, or just look at these huge birds (I like to do both), their resurgence is a great gift to America - thanks to conservation organizations.
The WTF has basically accomplished their goal. Turkeys are everywhere now, and huntable in most places. However, like government programs, non-profits rarely close up shop when their work is done. They tend to find something else to do, if only to keep their jobs. It's a sad fact that Ducks Unlimited still has much of their original mission to accomplish - wild duck populations, and the other wetlands critters that inhabit the habitats that DU protects and rehabilitates - remain far below where they were in years past.
There are a number of species of Wild Turkey in the New World. None native to the Old World.
Photo above: You all know that the males only display like that when they are overcome with love and/or horniness.