Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Plethora of Poults

A Wild Turkey hen and poults foraging along a gravel trail.
They really seem to like the ripening wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius), and so do I!

Our large population of "Wild" Turkeys has produced a bumper crop of chicks this year, even in spite of the Cooper Hawks that patrol the airways and the coyotes that prowl the meadows.  The successful veteran hens have learned that there's safety in numbers, and group their individual families together.  It's not unusual to see three hens accompanied by 15 poults strolling the preserve.

I've had a difficult time getting a good image of the aggregated groups so far.  If I take out my camera to take a shot, they warily move into tall vegetation.  However, once the hens get hungry and come to the birdseed that I put out for them, the poults will soon follow and become more comfortable in my presence.  If tradition holds, by autumn the adolescent poults will practically knock on the back door for food.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Final Breeding Bird Census for 2011

Sunrise, crossing a meadow en route to the census tract

This morning I completed the last of eight censuses of the birds breeding in the largest woodland in my preserve.  This marks the end of the 17th season I've walked through the woods, stopping for ten minutes at each of 19 stations, watching and (mostly) listening for birds.  As the breeding season progresses, the birds generally become increasingly subdued, and that was certainly the case today--except for the ever-raucous Gray Catbirds.
Overnight haze yet to burn off the pond at Crossroads Marsh, en route to census tract

Dawn's haze lingers over the creek as well

Black cohosh, or bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa) blooming in a woodland gap

A tuliptree embraces a boulder of gneiss...

 ...and sends its branches into the canopy

The breeding bird census trail, opened by yours truly with hand clippers,
and kept open by the passage of countless deer hooves

The breeding bird census woods, mostly mature tuliptrees and white ashes

Three stately tuliptrees; despite appearances, the furthest in the distance is actually the largest

 A red maple barely hanging on; the right side is still alive,
while the left provides haven for woodpeckers

Breeding bird census gridpoint B-13

Trail blocked by a fallen tuliptree
Each spring when I return to complete another year's census,
I'm surprised to find that new trees have fallen across the trail over the winter

Bark of a mature tuliptree

Widowmaker at gridpoint B-9

Bright yellow fungus on a rotting log

Mossy tuliptree buttress at gridpoint B-7

A cadre of volunteers or sprouts hoping to take the place of a fallen comrade

A spring run naturally blocked by woody debris
Based on footprints in mud, the pool provides water for birds, deer, racoons and,
today, for a frog, who squeaked as it sought cover

 The trail and woods uphill from the spring run pool
Spicebushes are loaded with berries this year
Migratory (and resident) birds will eat well come autumn

A robin's nest in a multiflora rosebush immediately above the census trail
The nest was occupied when I began the census in May, but the mother abandoned it
(with one egg) after I repeatedly walked through her territory.
By today, even the egg was gone.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Morning of Small Observations

I'm nearing the end of my annual series of censuses of the songbirds breeding in the deep woodlands of my preserve.  Using a protocol developed by the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University, I spend three hours just after sunrise in the woods looking and listening for birds that have established territories.  I do this eight times each year, and have been doing it for 17 years now.  May's censuses are usually most interesting because the birds are active as they duke it out for the best nesting sites, but as the season progresses the territories are set and the woods become increasingly quiet.  The last two censuses are usually the least interesting.
This morning, the sun rising over a low ridge caught my attention.  There was a tree perfectly positioned between me and the low sun.  The tree diffused the light and illuminated the woods without blinding me--sort of a miniature solar eclipse.  The morning was calm; not a leaf rustled.  Nevertheless, there must have been an imperceptibly gentle north breeze perfusing the forest because, in the diffuse sunlight, I watched uncountable motes moving along through the air.  Some were animate, like insects and spiders, and a few insects flew counter to the tide, but generally a seemingly endless drift of dust, pollen, seeds and who knows what else wafted along through the forest with the current.  To be honest, my first thought was, "I'm breathing this!"  My second thought was, "This is a perfect example of what I tell my restoration ecology students about woodlands receiving allochtononous inputs from the surrounding countryside."  But, in the end, I mostly just marveled at the show.
Further along, I came upon a tiny opening in the forest patrolled by three hoverflies (Family Syrphidae).  Hoverflies are always a welcome bonus on bird census days, especially on slow, late-season days, because they can be endlessly fascinating--and distracting.  For the most part, the flies maintain their relative and absolute positions, getting out of formation only to make darting forays in pursuit of aerial prey and then returning to exactly the same spot.  Today, for the first time, with the woods so still, I noticed that the hoverflies' wings generated enough of an air current to cause the leaves of the spicebush shrub above which they were located to flutter.  Amazing. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mianus River Gorge

 Along the Rim Trail at the Mianus River Gorge Preserve 
On the last day of our Hudson  River valley vacation last month, Kali and I hiked the 2.5-mile Rim Trail at the Mianus River Gorge Preserve in Bedford, Westchester County, New York.  Protecting the Mianus River Gorge was the fledgling Nature Conservancy's very first project.  Today, the gorge preserve is managed by an independent non-profit organization.
 The Minus River in the narrowest part of its gorge.
The Minus River is a modest stream that rises in northeast Westchester County and flows southward into Connecticut.  Continental ice sheet meltwaters carved the dramatic gorge, whose sides are lined with old-growth Canada hemlock stands.

These millipedes, much larger and more colorful than those around my preserve,
were abundant in the preserve
Because it precipitated at least part of every day of our vacation, I expected the preserve to be very wet, and that Kali would upbraid me for bringing her into a rain forest.  But the trails for the most part were in excellent condition, and Kali told me that she enjoyed the 5-mile round-trip walk very much--except for the abundant mosquitoes which bred in the vernal pools near the southern end of the trail that hurried us on our way.

Despite the fact that the preserve protects old-growth forest, it's had its share of human use, too.  In fact, it's amazing that the hemlock groves were left untouched, given the preserve's proximity (about 35 miles) to New York City.
Stone walls divide large sections of the preserve away from the gorge edge

Small quantities of mica, quartz, and feldspar were removed from this quarry face
I don't know how many folks are familiar with the Time-Life book series on American Wilderness that was published in the 1970s.  My complete collection is one of my prized possessions.  One volume of the series is called Urban Wilds and explores natural areas in the metropolitan New York City area.  In that volume, the Mianus River gorge is profiled through a collection of images and an essay entitled "Nature Walk."

 Havemeyer Falls, about 8 feet high, on a Mianus tributary near the southern end of the preserve
 A natural rock garden with Canada mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense) on a boulder above Havemeyer Falls.  
Don't you just love to pronounce that genus?

The Mianus River ends ignominiously just below the gorge in a reservoir, backed up to provide drinking water for Greenwich, Connecticut.  At this point, hikers must retrace their steps back to the parking lot.
This is my 200th post; is that a milestone?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Even an Entomophobe's Delight

Luna Moth (Actias luna)
Observed and photographed this afternoon a sweetgum tree, one of the caterpillar's food preferences.   Alas, my point-and-shoot Nikon wouldn't let me capture an image any closer or more detailed.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Mink River, and Your River

I'm reading Mink River, a strange, enchanted, and enchanting first novel by poet and essayist Brian Doyle from Oregon. I was captivated by this (longish) passage about the fictional Mink River in the Pacific Northwest, but it's applicable to your river, too; just change the players.
The river thinks too, you know.  Did you think rivers did not think?  The Mink is thinking.  Salmon and steelhead and cutthroat trout, it thinks.  Fir needles.  Salmonberries dropping suddenly and being snapped up by a trout who thinks them orange insects.  Alder and spruce roots drinking me always their eager thin little rude roots poking at me.  Rocks and pebbles and grains of stone and splinters of stone and huge stones and slabs and beaver and mink and crawdads and feces from the effluent treatment plant upriver.  Rain and mist and fog and gale and drizzle and howl and owl.  Asters and arrow-grass.  Finger creeks feeder creeks streams ditches seeps and springs.  Rowboats and rafts.  Canoes and chicory.  Men and women and children.  Dead and alive.  Willows and beer bottles and blackberry and ducklings and wood sorrel and rubber boots and foxglove and buttercup and rushes and slugs and snails and velvetgrass and wild cucumber and orbweaver spiders and that woman singing with her feet in me singing.  Baneberry and beargrass.  Thrush and hemlocks and coffee grounds.  Thimbleberry and heron.  Smelt and moss and water ouzels and bears and bear scat.  Bramble and bracken.  Elk drinking me cougar drinking me.  Ground-cedar and ground-ivy and eelgrass.  Vultures and voles.  Water striders mosquitoes mosquito-hawks.  Dock and dewberry.  Moths and mergansers.  Huckleberry and snowberry.  Hawks and osprey.  Water wheels and beaver dams.  Deer and lupine.  Red currant.  Trees and logs and trunks and branches and bark and duff.  I eat everything.  Elderberry and evening primrose.  Bulrush and burdock.  I know them all.  They yearn for me.  Caddis fly and coralroot.  I do not begin nor do I cease.  Foamflower fleeceflower fireweed.  I always am always will be.  Lily and lotus.  Swell and surge and ripple and roar and roil and boil.  I go to the Mother.  Madrone and mistmaiden.  The Mother takes me in.  Nettle and ninebark.  Pelt and peppergrass.  She waits for me.  Pine-sap and poppy.  I bring her all small waters.  Raspberry and rockcress.  I draw them I lure them I accept them.  Salal and satin-flower.  She is all waters.  Tansy and trillium.  She drinks me.  Velvetgrass and vernalgrass.  I begin as a sheen on leaves high in the hills, a wet idea, a motion, a dream, a rune, and then I am a ripple, and I gather the small waters to me, the little wet children, the rills of the hills, and we are me and run to Her muscling through wood and stone cutting through everything singing and shouting roiling and rippling and there She is waiting and whispering her salty arms always opening always open always o.
 Bard Rock on the Hudson River at Hyde Park, New York

Thursday, June 2, 2011


During our recent Hudson River valley vacation, we visited Manitoga, a site in Garrison, New York, with which I was vaguely familiar because some of my colleagues had developed a master plan for the property.
Orange Jelly (Dacrymyces palmatus)

Probably Ling Shih, or Varnished Polypore (Ganoderma lucidum)
 Natural woodland garden with Bristly Parchment (Lopharia cinerascens)
Manitoga's mission is to preserve the legacy of pioneer designer Russel Wright — his home, landscape, products, archives and philosophy — and share them with professionals and the public.  The stated mission of the Russel Wright Design Center is to preserve and protect Russel Wright's home, studio and woodland garden at Manitoga "as a learning laboratory about the importance of living in harmony with nature and the value of good design in everything and for everyone."
Sensuous mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) embrace)

From the 1930s to the 1950s, Wright was one of the best known designers in the United States.   At the apex of his career, Wright left New York City and moved his base of operations fifty miles north to Garrison, New York. It was here that he created a home, studio and designed landscape. He named it Manitoga, meaning Place of the Great Spirit in Algonquin. Wright shared the Native Americans' respect for the earth.

When Wright first found the property in 1942, it had been damaged by a century of quarrying and lumbering. Over the next three decades, until his death in 1976, he carefully redesigned and re-sculpted Manitoga's 75 acres using native plants, his training as a theater designer and sculptor, and his innovative design ideas. Though the landscape appears "natural," it is apparently a careful composition of woodland trees, rocks, ferns, mosses, and wildflowers.  Wright created over four miles of paths that wind over creeks, into woods, among boulders, and through ferns and mountain laurel to focus visitors' attention on the importance of living in harmony with nature.  In 2006, Manitoga was named a National Historic Landmark.
Wright's house and studio perched on the edge of a quarry.  Wright rerouted the stream on the lower right to fill the quarry.

Tours of Wright's house and studio are offered infrequently and by reservation only, so we weren't able to visit the house and environs, which are completely off limits to casual visitors.  But we did walk much of the grounds.  Despite the organization's hype about a designed landscape, our visit was really just a walk in the woods.  The woodlands at Manitoga are pleasant, but they're not that much different from any other woodland walk you might take in the lower Hudson Valley.