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, February 18. 2014
What happens when a coconut falls in the jungle, and no-one hears it?
It grows new coconut trees.
The geographical origins of the Coconut Palm are debated, but this useful and ornamental tree has spread around the tropics by man and probably via ocean currents too. This pic of Coconut Palms sprouting from fallen coconuts was in the jungles of St. Lucia last week.
Wednesday, February 12. 2014
We took a two- or three-hour hike each day of our trip. That doesn't sound like much, but it's mountains so it's uphill all the way. Sore legs.
We took one jungle birding hike with Mano, who knows all of the plants, trees, and birds. His granny was a herbalist, so he picks all sorts of leaves and makes you eat them for health. Why not?
He gives his walking stick a bath in the sea each evening to keep it happy. "Happy, happy, tank God for dis day" is the Caribbean mantra, isn't it?
Had we more time, I would have done some serious birding, but we saw many of the common critters. Some, of course, are our northern summer breeders in their wintertime vacation home.
We also saw a bat cave filled with thousands of fruit bats. At dusk, the fruit bats zipped through our little porch and filled a night-blooming tree outside the dining room, sucking nectar and pollinating the blossoms. Remarkable creatures for sure, and a wondrous sight.
My list below the fold, for those interested.
Continue reading "Casual Birding on St. Lucia"
Tuesday, February 4. 2014
The American Robin is semi-migratory (populations edge southwards), and can be found almost anywhere in the US in wintertime. Here, our winter Robins are probably Canucks, while our local summer breeders are probably in South Carolina.
In the northern US, they live on old berries and fruits in the winter, usually foraging in flocks. Sometimes they get drunk on fermented rotten fruit. They do not eat bird seed.
This pic was from a reader a while back, taken, as I recall, in Lenox, MA:
Friday, January 31. 2014
I'd rather play touch in the park with my old buddies than watch football on TV while eating junk food, but I guess it's a social ritual like secular Christmas.
Well, there are the top seeds in this game. Offense vs. defense, in a cool weather match-up of laundry vs. laundry with often amusing advertisements. Given Ground Hog day, I'll go with defense.
The game will be played in MetLife Stadium (aka Giants Stadium) in East Rutherford, NJ (aka New York). The stadium is part of the Meadowlands Sports Complex, which was built on landfill on the vast New Jersey meadowlands (aka swamps and marshes), in view of Manhattan.
Everyone who has driven the NJ Turnpike has passed through those Meadowlands.
Those marshes are recent. A mere 3000 years ago those marshy lands were woodlands, and the Atlantic coast was 40 miles to the east. With the retreat of the last glacial incursion and the slow, steady sea-level rise of the post-glaciation, it became a estuary based on the route of the Hackensack River and a (no doubt lovely) White Cedar brackish swamp. The cedars were all cut down by settlers, for lumber.
Despite heavy industrial pollution (ended now), diking, ditching, impoundments, etc., these meadowlands are now mostly protected from development and are a wildlife resource despite the proliferation of Phragmites australis. You could not build Giant Stadium there, today.
There are nature tours, or you can rent canoes and kayaks to explore the 30+ square miles of these marshes.
Geographic history of the NJ meadowlands
"More than 8,000 acres of wetlands across the Hudson River from New York City has been earmarked for a wildlife preserve. The New Jersey Meadowlands was long known as a dumping ground: one of the country's largest landfills — and an occasional burial spot for mobsters."
Tuesday, January 7. 2014
The Rough-Legged Hawk breeds in the far north, like the Snowy Owl, but during winter can be found throughout the US, especially in open spaces.
He is a very large hawk with black thumbprints on his wrists - unmistakable in flight. And like most hawks and owls, he is hunting mostly small furry things and vulnerable birds. Like the Snowy Owl, I've seen them in Montauk in the winter.
More about the Rough-Legged here.
Also, happily perusing a recent birding book - National Geographic's The Complete Birds of North America. It is complete, with a good section on gulls, which I use as a judge of a bird book. It's a companion to NG's Field Guide, and has plenty of information, including habitat, population trends, migratory details, and where populations are expanding and contracting. Good on trends in "accidental" sightings, too. For example, the book notes the increased sightings of Swallow-Tailed Kite in New England - and makes note of its historic populations in the northern USA.
Sunday, January 5. 2014
Flights of Fancy in Avian Evolution - From mousebirds to terror birds, the class Aves has encompassed a remarkable diversity of species over the past 150 million years.
Pic below is a Snowy Owl. They come down here in winter and are diurnal, but I haven't seen one lately. They like big open spaces - beaches, marshes, dumps, meadows - that remind them of the tundra. Terror bird, for rats.
Monday, November 18. 2013
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.