Happy Spring!

To be fair, we’ve had far worse winters weather wise but this winter has seemed rougher, darker and sadder than most. As a life long environmentalist, artist and educator I can’t help but feel that everything I believe in is being threatened by bullies who worship the dollar far more than the heart, soul and health.

For me, the long winter kept making that more and more apparent. As spring arrives, however, I find myself rolling up my sleeves and getting down to the hard work of really standing up for the things I treasure. I find comfort in the fact that so many women, and men, too, are doing the same. Bulldozers and steam rollers may often get their way but eventually those confrontations with rocks, boulders and waterfalls can wear them down and stop them dead in their tracks. I intend to be one of the latter.

Anyhoo, as my grandmother would say, it is finally spring! As we all know, spring on the Cape is….well, not like spring in other places. We have to take it when we can get it, and where.

First, there’s that wonderful spring light, getting stronger every day. These black locust trees still only the tiniest of buds but the light somehow makes them seem joyous on a bright March afternoon.

Red maple, also called swamp maple, is one of our earliest native bloomers and its buds are already red and ready to go…. Pussy willows can now be found around most our bogs and freshwater wetlands. Willows like soggy ground, one of the reasons you should never plant them near a sewer line or septic tank. Their roots will eagerly seek all water sources and they aren’t picky about what type of water that might be, if you catch my drift. Skunk cabbage is another early wetland plant. I will be writing more about these interesting plants later in the week as they deserve a whole post of their own. These humble looking plants have quite the story and biology! Here’s a little skunk cabbage flower getting ready to bloom…. Hellebores, also called Lenten roses are very early bloomers and can survive snow, ice and other indignities. And of course, everyone’s spring favorites, snow drops and crocus. These are cultivated, not native or wild but they are so cheery I had to include them here.

Ospreys and piping plovers should be arriving within the week so keep your eyes wide open, ears, too!

What are some of your favorite early spring signs?

The Blackbirds are Back!

It’s always one of my favorite and first signs of spring–the return of the blackbirds. I often get common grackles before I get red-winged blackbirds at my own backyard feeders but I know the red-wings are around because I hear them.

Common grackles are big, bold and glossy birds with big yellow eyes. Their fan shaped tails are distinctive as is their raucous behavior. You always know when they are around.

Male grackles are the first to arrive, though it is difficult to tell males and females apart. Their big, solid bills help the crack corn and also eat carrion. They will gobble down seed and suet faster than you can say, hey, leave some for the squirrels and they often bicker while doing so. You have to give them credit in the looks department though. I think they are gorgeous birds, all that color glowing off them as they turn in the light. Their calls are loud and scratchy, often compared to the sound of rusty gate hinges.Red-winged blackbirds arrive in large flocks, often mixed in with grackles. Like grackles, the males arrive first and almost immediately begin to stake out territory.

Check out this guy’s raggedy tail feathers. All migratory birds look a bit haggard when they first arrive. They are often thin, minus a few feathers and in need of a good rest. That doesn’t stop them from declaring their superiority, however. Flocks of blackbirds often quibble in the still bare trees and will sing, if we can call it singing, louder and louder as time goes on and the others don’t move. That’s when you’ll start to see some aggression as one bird will decide to chase the others away. This early in the spring the others often ignore such antics and just move away a foot or so, if that. When they first arrive, the epaulets of the male red-winged blackbirds may appear dingy and lackluster. In a few weeks time the yellow and red will become quite bright, all the better to see and be seen in their world. Those bright red patches can be puffed out to seem much larger than they are. These are used as warning signals while setting up territories and chasing out would be interlopers but are also used to attract mates once the females arrive. Most are familiar with the “conkle-a-REE!” call of the red-winged blackbird. If you haven’t heard it yet, keep listening. By the end of this week they should be singing Cape wide.Have you seen a red-winged blackbird yet? Where?

Cape Cod Roses

Ah, June! Roses are everywhere here on Cape Cod right now but some of our most beloved roses are washashores…img_0290.jpgRosa rugosa, our favorite beach rose is so iconic that it is regularly featured on all sorts of promotional materials for the Cape and Islands. It is not native, however, having been brought over from Asia in the 1800s.

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Then there’s the heavily scented Rosa multiflora, another Asian import, that grows like a weed wherever planted and birds plant them everywhere after eating the hips or fruits. It’s the one with the little white blossoms that is everywhere right now.

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That’s it in the foreground…

img_0546.jpgWe do have a local wild rose though. This sweet pink rose is not as showy or robust as the Rosa rugosa but it is lovely and smells wonderful. Known as the Virginia rose to many it also goes by other common names as well, such as the prairie rose.

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All these roses are in bloom right now in places like Fort Hill in Eastham. We have a fabulous weather forecast for the weekend so get outside and enjoy!

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Help our early pollinators!

As tempting as it may be for some folks to mow down or kill any sign of what we think of as weeds, try and enjoy our earliest spring blooms. They are the first flowers our early bees and butterflies use for nectar. Yes, many of these plants get dismissed as weeds but why not embrace them as food for helpful and necessary insects instead?

This is what happens when we let a place get a little wild. It is quickly populated with plants that flower and provide food for not only beneficial insects like honey bees but seeds for birds as well.

violetsDandelions are some of our first nectar plants and if left alone you will find they are happily visited by bees all day long. I have tons of violets as well and the bees and small butterflies love them as well.

Dandelions and violets You may also find other ground covers such as these. When I photographed these yesterday they were being visited by spring azures, sweet tiny blue butterflies. Well worth waiting to mow in my estimation.early spring bloomsMore ground covers that can be let go and grow right now. Weeds? Maybe. Food for tiny beings? Definitely. Also, in my world, food for the soul and the eyes. I love these small flowers that brave the cold and the crazy spring weather and bloom anyway.img_9061.jpgSomehow having a monochrome green lawn has become desirable in today’s world. This means using chemicals to keep out weeds and bugs. Many people are using Round Up, one of the worst chemicals to be unleashed on the world market since DDT and we all know how that went. Go chemical free. Embrace the weeds. Enjoy the flowers, bees and butterflies you will get as a result. Yards full of these plants will also invite children to play, to look for fairies, toads and beetles.

When we are welcoming to birds and wildlife we are richly rewarded. We don’t need to worry about our children or pets absorbing poisons into their skins or into their water sources. Even walking through treated grass can bring unwanted chemicals into our homes on the soles of our shoes or even our feet.

If I have to choose between poison and dandelions, I pick dandelions every time. And heck, they’re cheerfully yellow. What’s to hate?

Stories trees tell in the Cape Cod woods

Way back in the day before the Europeans came to Cape Cod, the entire peninsula was covered with hard wood forests. Sassafras, hickory, beech, oak, maple and more were everywhere. So were the tall and stately white pines. The dirt was dark and loamy, rich with nutrients.

And then, the wood hungry people chopped down all the trees. All the trees. By the time Thoreau walked our shores in the mid 1800s there wasn’t a tree in the landscape, noted in his book, Cape Cod.

With the trees went the soil, leaving sand and in some areas, clay, behind.

Today our woodlands are full of oak and pitch pine. Pitch pine was planted in the 1800s to try and stop the eroding of the soil. Pitch pine is fast growing and tough.  If you’ve been to Cape Cod you have seen pitch pine. It is now ubiquitous here.


Almost all our woodlands are pretty monotonous. Pitch pine and oak….and in many areas the taller, wilier oak is winning. Pitch pines top out at about 50 feet. Oaks grow much taller. Every year the pines drop cones full of seeds and from those sprout little trees like this one. Some will prosper and grow. Many will not.img_8809.jpg Much of what is now woodland on the Cape was once used as farmland. Many trees were cut again to clear land and it is not unusual to find trees with two trunk in these areas. Both trunks grew from sprouts from the stump, left to rot.img_8819.jpgAmerican holly trees can be found in many of our woodlands. Some areas were actually cultivated for holly and are known as holly reservations, showcasing many varieties, such as Ashumet in Hatchville and Ryder Conservation area in Sandwich. Other woodlands have many accidentals, planted by birds which ate the seeds and then pooped them out.img_8812-1.jpgSome areas, especially in Mashpee, still have some very old, very tall white pines. In recent years I’ve been noticing white pines sneaking back into other areas as well, such as this area in Hyannis around Hathaway’s Pond. White pines grow fast and get very tall, out pacing the pitch pines so it will be interesting to see how this develops, if I live that long.img_8807.jpgI ‘ll be posting more about local trees and flowers as spring unfolds so stay tuned!

Spring light on Cape Cod

What a crazy spring so far! Warm days, cold days, rain, snow, hail, rainbows, sun, clouds….all in the same day some days. It has made for some spectacular views, though.

I have always loved walking around and exploring ponds. It’s one of those things that harks back to childhood for me. I love the ocean and the beach but a pond is a smaller, friendlier body of water. It’s quite accessible to a child and full of wonderful things. Sometimes there are even shadows of tree ghosts on the path.  One of my favorite ponds is Hathaway’s Pond in Hyannis. I grew up going to this pond and I still love to go there. The light through the trees and on the water is beautiful this time of year. I’ll be leading a walk there this Saturday at 8 a.m. It’s free and open to the public so come join me!
  You can see a glaze of snow on these branches. Even with the gray of the day the light is sneaking through….  The Cape is famous for its light and each morning when I walk on the beach down the street the light there nearly takes my breath away every time. I never know what I will find but it is always satisfying.
  On this day a front was coming in. The divide between dark and light on both the water and in the sky was dramatic.  Some mornings the water is all sparkly and on others it is almost luminescent.
  Sun, no sun, clouds, rain….spring has it all. But mostly it has a light that makes me glad to be alive. I want to breathe it in with the air and be filled with it.  Those little halos of light on the horizon and the water’s edge make me swoon a little.
  And then sometimes I look out my window and see the eastern sky on fire with a bit of a rainbow after a windy, rainy day. I could see the sunset out the back door through the trees but the pink on the opposite side was even more spectacular, I think. As for the wires? It’s the world we live in and sometimes I think it gives the whole picture a human scale and that’s okay with me.  What kind of light will I find out there today?

Happy Spring?

I’m trying to get back into posting regularly here so thanks for stopping by and reading. This past winter wasn’t so terrible, especially compared to last winter but it did throw us an icy little curve ball this week here on the Cape.

002Yep, it snowed. And hailed. And rained. And snowed some more, leaving a nice, crusty, icy covering on everything. All my poor daffodils suffered, lying their little yellow heads right down on the ground.

017Outside my kitchen window the grackles ruled. At least 50 flew in to take advantage of free seed and what a noisy, bickering bunch they were. Grackles are sort of like that large group of teenagers that rumbles through the neighborhood. They’re rude, they’re loud and yet, they have a certain shine to them that makes me smile in spite of myself.

056 The morning between storms was cold but still. The beach was a hundred shades of gray and the gulls were, too.024

Soon, the wind would pick up and more snow would blow in but in the meantime the mergansers were flirting it up.

038And then, it all melted and the sun returned. I saw my first mayflower in bloom.

024And a swan upon her nest.

022And like this lady mallard I knew that spring was really there in the wings, just waiting to return to the main stage.

Happy spring, everyone.

A Talk and a Walk

Hi all! And Happy Spring! I know the forecast is calling for some, well, you know….un-springlike stuff, but I’m just going to float right over that for now and enjoy this sunny day.

I’ve been busy teaching a drawing and painting class at Green Briar Nature Center this March and I’ve also been busy creating my new Beach Bunnies on Vacation coloring book. I’m also revising a middle grade novel that I’ll be sending out to agents and publishers soon. It was a productive winter around here.

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This Wednesday I’ll be giving a talk about Creating a Nature Journal at the Dennis Public Library at 4 p.m. It’s free but you have to let them know you’re coming!

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On April 16 I will be leading a walk at the Hathaway’s Pond Conservation Area on the Hyannis/Barnstable Village line at 8 a.m. That is also free.

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For those who would like to do some outdoor drawing and painting I’ll be leading a class once a week that will meet in different locations all over the Cape. I’m working on the schedule now but it will be under the Classes button on the navigation bar very soon.

Come see me and celebrate spring!

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.