Beach rose hips are NOT beach plums and other things

Happy September!

It’s that time of year when everyone gets all confused about beach plums and beach rose hips. The rose hips are big, fat and juicy orange and red at this time of year and you’ll find them on those same bushes along the beaches and dunes where you saw the beach roses, Rosa rugosa earlier in the summer.

They are edible but quite tart! Some people make tea, jam or jelly with them but it seems to be harder than I want it to be so no jam for me. Jelly and tea, maybe….

Anyway, the photo below shows a beach rose hip.

 

  Beach plums have been ripe for a few weeks now and look quite different. They are small, hard purplish fruits and are much desired for making beach plum jelly. These photos were from the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary where the crop was lush and is always left for the wildlife to consume.
    Did you know beach plums were related to cherries? Check out their leaves. Below are some that are not quite ripe but these are desired by those that make jelly as well as the unripe fruit helps the rest of it set, especially if the jelly maker is not using pectin.
  Below is a choke cherry and you’ve probably been seeing lots of these around. The birds and many mammals go crazy over them! Note to all! Do not park under a choke cherry tree or you’ll be sorry!  Below is a photo of a wild lemonade I made using staghorn sumac. I know, crazy, huh?
  I have heard about it for years but this is the first year I actually made some and it was delicious! You add about 8 fully seeded heads to a pitcher full of cool water and let it steep for at least 4 hours. Do not heat!  Here are the seed heads before adding them to the water.
    And here is the seedhead on the staghorn sumac bush. These are all over the Cape but before eating, do make sure your ID is correct! Not all sumacs are good for you…. Anyway, that is just a little wild food inspired post for today…..enjoy!

Summer kids

As many of you know, getting the kids off the couch and away from the screens to do something fun outdoors is a bit of a passion of mine.

This summer I said yes to helping with the summer programs for kids at the Green Briar Nature Center in East Sandwich and it’s been a blast so far. Every morning you can find us out exploring somewhere or making something ….

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 We hike all over the Game Farm as well as the Briar Patch and sometimes we go out in the canoe catamaran.


 Some days we make toys based on science and some days we paint stuff.


  

One thing we always do is have fun!

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 There’s still plenty of summer left so find a kid and take them outside. You’ll be glad you did and so will they!

Hunting for mushrooms on Cape Cod

Mushrooms fascinate me. They pop up all over and they are all so different. I have attended various workshops over the years and have studied various field guides but there is a lot of complexity to identifying mushrooms properly. If there’s anything that really does need proper ID it is a mushroom, especially if you are thinking of eating one.  

This spring I joined the Cape Cod Mushroom Club and have gone on a couple of their walks. It is really a great way to learn and the leaders have been knowledgeable and terrific. Although I’ve learned a lot about identification and families of mushrooms I’ve also learned the importance of really being thorough.


Not being thorough could kill you or at least make you really sick. See how cute and innocent these little guys look? They are neither….they are different kinds of Amanitas and can make you very, very sick. The white death angel amanita is very common here and can kill you.


On the other hand, some are fine to sample like these black trumpets. Don’t use my photos, etc. as final ID. Have an expert check!


Some are just fun like these fairy stools


And these cool looking yellow headed jelly babies–at least I think that’s what they are.


There are lots of boletes  

And russulas….but prepare to fully identify them which isn’t easy…, 

For me, just learning a little bit more about the world I share with all these interesting life forms is where the fun is….and oh yeah, I like to draw them, too. Later this week I’ll put up photos of the sketches I did on the last walk but for now I’ll leave you with this one…

And then at the oriole feeder….

came all the newly fledged orioles, one after another. My feeder is so busy with young Baltimore orioles these days that they are hanging around in the nearby bushes bickering until they can take a turn. There are half a dozen adult orioles as well, leading me to believe I have at least 3 nests represented. One group has 3, another 2 and one male oriole brings one lone youngster every day….

003These youngsters are not brightly colored like their parents yet, allowing them to be well camouflaged as they flit about from tree to tree, bush to bush. They are foraging for insects as well as enjoying the grape jelly and oranges. Some of them are having a bit of a struggle with balance still and they often go bottoms up! Check out that lemon yellow tail  on the underside!

002This threesome has grown a lot over the week but the first day they arrived they were very unsure about how to get to the feeder so they just waited for dad to show them how it is done. Dad was not feeding them at this time so they begged from each other…sorry for the blurry photo but it does tell the tale…

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Also this week I’ve had some other visitors to the oriole feeder.

010Check out that dull brown coloration when the wings are folded. Great camouflage! But look what happens when the butterfly opens its wings….

014It is hard to see the full coloration on the inside in this photo but I got good looks, if not good photos, of this little guy and I believe it to be what is called a question mark butterfly. That really is its name, by the way, and they are not uncommon here at this time of year.

012I’ve had other butterflies visit the feeder as well but none as cooperative as this one when it came to posing for the camera.

I also have catbirds visiting this feeder but so far I have only succeeded in capturing a gray blur….

Happy July, everyone!

 

Nature sketching on Cape Cod to welcome in summer

I love to sketch, I love nature and I love traveling around Cape Cod so on this sunny day in late June I packed my lunch and my sketching materials and headed to the lower Cape, hopefully beating the summer crowds.

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I then headed to one of my favorite places for sketching flowers, etc., Fort Hill in Eastham.

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It was picture perfect there, with fields full of flowers like these sweet peas…

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I got out my trusty pen and little red Moleskine notebook and began to sketch. Almost all my field sketches are done in ink. I add the color later at home. This allows me to stand while I draw and to move along from subject to subject easily and quickly.

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Later, I add the watercolor washes like these…

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Sometimes, though, I find a spot where it is perfect to just hang out a bit and paint, like this one in the beech woods by the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, where I also went today. This spot is a favorite of mine going back to childhood and I have to say it still has the same magic for me today.

   

  I highly recommend getting out to do a little sketching and writing or even just daydreaming. It helps to capture a moment, an observation and refines our observation skills, something we can always improve upon. Never mind about talent or experience. Just begin where you are.

Happy summer!

 

Welcome, summer!

Oops, I’ve been busy and I have not been updating here. I’ve been working with kids in the woods, at the pond and at the salt marsh. I’ve been drawing and painting, catching frogs and writing.

One of the coolest things I did over the last few weeks was attend a bird banding demonstration at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

The table was all set up with the necessary tools for weighing, measuring and recording.

038The next step was to check the mist nets which had been set up in areas migratory birds fly through but which also had some protection.

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The little bag holds other bags which can gently hold the birds found and carefully removed from the nets.

Look what we found! A great crested flycatcher! These guys are feisty and vocal in the wild and they are when captured as well.

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Feathers are examined to determine condition and age of the bird.059By blowing on the belly of the bird the bander can tell if the bird has a bare brood patch, meaning it is sitting on eggs. In this species both male and female can have brood patches so sex was not determined.

062The bird is then weighed. It looks sort of tough but really, the bird is quieted by the darkness and the fact that it can’t move. It is only in the tube for a matter of seconds.

071 072After all that the band is affixed to the leg and all info is recorded.

061A moment is taken to admire and thank the bird for its cooperation

074and then it is released. When releasing the birds, they are held close to the ground which helps them orient themselves.

077Let’s just say the birds do not hang around after being released. This one actually called and chatted back and forth with what we assumed was a mate almost immediately. All of this takes place in a matter of minutes, by the way. The bird banders are very kind, calm and aware of the bird’s dignity and stress level. I have seen birds banded before but it was a pretty cool way to spend a morning.

 

First Cape Cod mayflowers now blooming

It didn’t take spring long to wake up the trailing arbutus, also known as the mayflower, our state flower.

Look for them along sunny banks in pine and oak woodlands. They sprawl across the ground with tough woot leaves and are sporting buds in most areas.

Just this morning I found my first blooms and in an old abandoned wood lot in Hyannis so you never know where they may show up.

Some areas should be just gorgeous with these sweet smelling flowers very soon.

Cape Cod Walking Groups

It’s spring, finally! That means it is time to get outside, explore old favorite paths but find new paths and new places to explore as well. I grew up here on the Cape and am familiar with many, many places and yet every year I find new places that become new favorites. There are probably enough places to explore, even in a small place like Cape Cod, that I will never find them all.

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So how do you find new places? Go off the beaten path and take a road you’ve never taken before. The Cape is only so wide and only so long. You can only get so lost!

Joining a group or signing up for a nature walk with any of the many wonderful nature minded organizations is also fun and you’ll make some new friends as well.

I learn new things every time I take a walk with another naturalist, birder or botanist so I try to mix it up and go on all sorts of walks throughout the year. Check out Mass Audubon at Wellfleet Bay and Mass Audubon at Long Pasture for seasonal walks. The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History has weekly walks with Connie Boyce that are very popular and the Green Briar Nature Center has bi-monthly Wild Women Walking walks with Mary Beers. There are many others as well. Mashpee runs public walks as does the Harwich Conservation Trust, the town of Barnstable and the Barnstable Land Trust (an independent group, not town run.)

The other day I went on one of Mary Beers’s walks at the East Sandwich Game Farm. Mary is so knowledgeable you’ll gather all sorts of interesting information.

This walk is not for exercise as much as it is for natural history so don’t plan on any serious hiking. You can go back by yourself for that. I know the game farm pretty well, having worked with Mary there many times over the years but we found a few things I never knew before…

Like there is a special patch of reindeer lichen there…

052 Not only is reindeer lichen a favorite food of reindeer in areas where they live–which is not on Cape Cod–but a close up will show you that the little branches look like reindeer antlers. I have seen this in a lot of places but not in a big patch like this one! Mary told us the patches are few and far between on the Cape…053We also found little holes like these on a sunny hillside path….the sun had gone in but it was still warm when we found them….

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Mary thought they might be the little nesting spots of solitary bees and as we looked carefully on the ground we started to see the bees coming out of the dirt. Most were just waking up from the winter! 048They lay their eggs in these tunnels and bring pollen in that will feed the larvae when they hatch. How cool is that?

We heard and saw the usual birds but a belted kingfisher gave us a nice close look and we watched both osprey and a Cooper’s hawk fly overhead.

Check the links that are highlighted to find more information about each group’s walks. If you’d rather just go walking by yourself, there are also lots of good books out there as well, with maps and info.

Just get outside. And take a kid or two or three!

 

I went looking for spring in the  Cape Cod woods…

But what I found was more winter…

I  started my day at the Lowell Holly Conservation Area in Mashpee. This is usually a delightful place to walk but it had many icy and snowy areas along the trails that were tricky to navigate.

There were many lovely vistas however

  

You find lots of white pine, beech and of course, American holly here. I also found a nice little stand of Princess pine and tea berry .

Carpet moss is nice and green but the lake is still mostly frozen.

Later, at the Jehu Pond Conservation Area I saw lots of trailing arbutus leaves so mayflowers will be blooming soon!

I saw my first pine warbler of the season and courting hairy woodpeckers but the woods were pretty quiet.

One thing that becomes obvious as the snow melts is how tough winter was for birds and other wildlife. I found signs and remains of multiple birds and even those of a hawk .

But I also found this– a little reminder of the hope that is spring!

Finding spring on Cape Cod….

After a week of being sick and housebound and watching the snow blow yet again outside my window I went in search of spring this week. 

  

Where is the best place to find spring? At a farm! Every year about this time I pop on over to Peterson’s Farm in Woods Hole to see the little lambs. It doesn’t get much cuter than little lambs jumping and running about. No matter how grumpy or out of sorts you may be feeling I think it would be hard to stay that way while watching little lambs frolic. 

   

 

I even got to visit with Harley, the llama and his older charges. That Harley is one patient dude, hanging out with the chickens as well as those persnickety old sheep.

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Birds were singing all about,  none as brightly or loudly as this happy song sparrow, though.

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Robins and grackles were everywhere in the fields, some even finding worms or grubs. It’s late for worms and grubs but there is still snow on the ground in many places. In the warmer spots, however, worms and grubs were nearer to the surface.

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A rabbit watched me as I watched it, hidden well within the brambles…

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It gave me a nice little flash of white tail as it made its exit.

016The shrubs and vines are showing life and were full of birds…

  

   

 

 In another few weeks it will be full on spring at the farm. I can’t wait! Happy Spring, everyone!