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
Saturday, November 16. 2013
Here's his Red Fox, the most widely-distributed and adaptable carnivore in the world:
Churchill is technically sub-arctic, but it's in a band where the Red Fox and the Arctic Fox ranges have historically overlapped: Red Fox mostly to Arctic Circle, Arctic Fox mostly above. Here's his Arctic Fox pic:
Below the fold, I have posted their range maps.
Continue reading "Foxes on Hudson Bay"
Thursday, October 24. 2013
I heard one hooting outside my open bedroom window the other morning at 4 am. Woke me up. After 20 minutes, another one joined in the conversation. A mate?
Remarkable large birds, top predators, and adaptable to almost every habitat from urban parks to deserts. They are found everywhere in the US, Canada, Central America, and in parts of South America.
They will eat anything that moves: house cats, snakes, skunks, rats, porcupines, mice, fish, muskrats, possums, crows, gulls, ducks, even smaller owls - but their favorite food seems to be rabbits.
I rarely see them, but I hear them regularly. They are non-migratory and early nesters, laying eggs in January snowstorms.
This is fun: The Owls of NYC
Saturday, September 21. 2013
The chorus of crickets chirping on these late summer evenings is one of the finest things in life, and last night they were loud. That evening bug-song has followed me through most of my life, and fills me with joy.
Field Crickets are found across the US. In New England, we have the Black Field Cricket (photo) who is at his prime in early October until the first hard frost. They are nocturnal insects and eat almost anything.
Taxonomically, crickets (along with grasshoppers, locusts, katydids) are in Order Orthoptera of Class Insecta.
The males rub their forewings together producing the chirp or trill, of which the frequency is temperature-related. The function of the trill is, of course, to attract females desirous of fertilization.
Around here, we still have the Katydids singing at night along with the rapidly-growing Field Crickets. Open the windows. Or open the doors: two Field Crickets are occupying the Maggie's HQ right now, and I need to leave them some crumbs from my Subway sandwich to keep them happy.
Sunday, September 1. 2013
Feral pig, Wild Boar, Wild Hog, Russian Boar, farm pig. They are all pigs, all very slight variants of the one species Sus scrofa. (The tusks are removed from farm pigs at birth.) In the US, they are all called "pigs."
No sus scrofa is native to North America.
We have posted in the past about the pig/boar hybrids which have been expanding their range across the US, wreaking havoc in the process to woodlands and to agriculture. They are so prolific, and so destructive, that most areas of the US now have open season on the pigs. Hog wild: Feral pig population explodes in U.S
Distinguishing European (aka Russian) Boar from farm pig/boar hybrids is almost impossible, but it is thought that, in many or most areas, most animals are hybrid. Since they're all the same species, it doesn't really matter. Pigs.
Texas and California have seen enormous population growth of Sus, but they have spread around the country - even around Albany NY where the biggest pigs have traditionally been the NYS politicians.
Since every area in the US in which they have appeared is eager to be rid of them, year-round hunting opportunities are abundant. Hunting over bait stations is entirely legal. Some use AR-15s, some use bow, some use revolver, and some macho dudes use baying dogs and kill the pigs with a hunting knife.
There are simply not enough pig hunters to control these creatures, so I propose releasing Wolves into areas where the wild pigs are a problem. The Wolves would have a field day.
Some people do not enjoy the taste of wild pig, which is a bit gamier than the corn-fed farm pig. I have had the wild boar, the same Sus scrofa, which lives in the Appenines of Umbria, and it is a special treat when cooked the ways the Umbrians do it. "Cinghiale." I've had it there cooked several ways, and the sausage too. Even snuck some cinghiale salumi home in my bags.
Here's Pigging out in Umbria
Here's a number of Italian recipes for wild boar/pig/whatever, to perhaps inspire our American pig hunters.
Here's a pic of my pal (on the right) with a Texas pig he
Saturday, August 24. 2013
Fast-moving Wildfire Enters Yosemite, Threatens San Francisco Water, Power
If you live in a flood zone, you should expect floods. If you build in a forest prone to fire, you should expect fire.
Flooding is nature telling you that you should not build a house there. Fire, likewise. Fire is part of a forest's natural cycle. Fire suppression only makes the next one hotter and more violent.
Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires. Mother Nature is a harsh school-mistress. As the sea-captain said, "I love going to sea, but I do not love the sea. The sea is my enemy because it is always trying to find a way to kill me."
The same goes for the deep woods.
If you recall, the last big fire in Yosemite was a boon to wildlife and to the forest's health. It's like a natural ecosystem, ya' know?
Saturday, August 17. 2013
An annual re-post:
We mentioned in our piece on cicadas that the Katydids would begin their singing in mid-late summer. They are beginning to go strong now here in New England.
Open that window, shut off the TV, and let those wonderful, soothing, romantic, sentimental, poignant, sleepy-time night sounds roll in to feed your soul. And engrave it in your heart - we only have so many Augusts in our lives. For the katydid, it's their one and only - no wonder they sing their hearts out, until a hard frost kills them all.
You hardly ever see a Katydid - they are well-camouflaged in the green leaves but they are all over. Early evening and nighttime are when they make their music - more like Kay-did than a three-syllable tune. It sounds as if they are singing to each other. With the crickets providing the chirping background theme, it's a fine choir out there right now, at night. The bugs own the night.
Here's more info about Katydids.
Friday, August 16. 2013
Sunday, August 4. 2013
Tuesday, July 30. 2013
12-20 hummers at the feeders - Rufus and Calliope. The Rufus migrate from winter breeding grounds in southern Mexico to summer HQ in southern Alaska. That's a female Rufus with the little red throat patch.
Tuesday, July 23. 2013
My wife and I have been scuba diving for 20+ years, and we've seen all kinds of fantastic sights. I was lucky enough to meet a Sea Turtle on my first open water experience, at 120 feet. Barracuda have eyed my wife and I hungrily, while we off-gassed on the hang line. An octopus shot some ink while we watched him in his lair. Probably the most amazing thing we experienced was being buzzed by a pod of Atlantic Bottle-Nosed Dolphin while we ascending from a WWII wreck.
It was a disconcerting experience, at first. As the video below only hints, baitfish will suddenly move in a unified direction as a predator approaches. We were surrounded by baitfish and they disappeared suddenly, as if being washed down a funnel and into the darkness of the ocean. You don't need much experience to know what that mean. Our eyes as big as plates, we anticipated the arrival of a shark. When the Dolphin suddenly appeared, it was as if playtime was declared. They whipped around us two or three times, encouraging us to let go and join them.
But I've never, ever, come this close to being lunch.
Monday, July 22. 2013
Our yellow Trumpet Vine on our entryway arbor - a mini- nature preserve - is having a good year.
A Robin is nesting in it right now. Her second batch this season. They get annoyed every time you walk through.
I devoted yesterday afternoon to manual labor because the heat wave passed. Weeding, vine removal, some mid-summer pruning, stacking logs for winter, etc. While taking a little iced-tea and cigar break sitting on my wood pile, I got free entertainment from two Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds fighting over the ownership of the entire vine. "Why not share it?" I thought. "There's enough nectar and tiny bugs for all." Nope.
Nature is not nursery school.
Elsewhere at the Maggie's HQ, I have a red Trumpet Vine. I think they prefer the red, but they seem to find the yellow worth fighting over.
Monday, July 8. 2013
Die Heuernte (The Haying), Pieter Breughel the Elder, 1556
In New England, haying - or at least the mowing - is generally done by the 4th of July depending on the weather. It's been a wet Spring but it's drying out now.
At the farm, we wait until a few weeks later so as not to destroy or disturb the nests of the meadow-nesting birds. We have Bobolinks, Savannah Sparrows, Woodcock, the occasional Meadowlark, and Mallard and Black Duck in the tall grass along the stream.
For our wild brushy fields, we'll brushwack them anytime we can between August and October.
Here's a detail from that painting. Peening, I think:
Here's our reader Buddy's scythe. I do not think he has used it lately.
Sunday, July 7. 2013
I fought with these darn things all weekend (with the help of a BD daughter). I think the trick is either to yank them out when young, or clip them low and spray the stump with poison.
If you live in the Northeast, your gardens and plantings are, right now, being attacked by the unwanted and unwelcome alien Porcelainberry.
This aggressive Asian weed vine was introduced as a decorative ground cover, but it is a cancer with the ability to grow 15' or more per year, and to smother anything you have planted. If you pull it up, get the entire root - or poison it.
The birds poop the seeds everywhere, so they come up everywhere around here. Especially in gardens. Their roots are tenacious. If you just clip them, they come back twice as strong.
As its leaves demonstrate, it is a member of the grape family and it can be confused with the native wild grape, which is a much less aggressive plant. You can read all about Porcelainberry here, and about how to try to get rid of it.
Says Mrs. BD in exasperation, "If anything drives me to quitting gardening, it will be those damn vines."
Saturday, July 6. 2013
Rancher blames global warming on Grizzly attack.
Two notes to that unfortunate rancher. First, if you live in Griz country, it is intelligent to be armed, on a horse, or in a vehicle. If hiking, at least make plenty of noise to warn them away. When we have hiked in a Griz preserve in Montana, we clap our hands and talk loud. Some hikers bang on pots, some use Bear Bells.
Second, Grizzly Bears are not mountain creatures at all. They are primarily creatures of the lowlands, especially river valleys and foothill marshes with the succulent vegetation they like to graze on. In berry season, they will go into the hills but not the mountains. Historically, they were common on the Great Plains of the US as far east as Ohio. They are not really predators except to fish, young helpless mammals, and anthills, but people can piss them off sometimes. They do not like to be bothered. Who does? They are powerful and fast and meat is a rare dessert for them.
When they are in forest or mountains, they are remnant refugees from their preferred habitat, trying to survive in marginal areas.
Rule of thumb: Never surprise a Griz.
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"