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?

Science on the Street and Nature’s Ways

Happy weekend! I spent yesterday at the Science on the Street event held by the STEM Network at the Cape Cod Community College. What a fun day! Hundreds of families came through and I have to say it was very satisfying and encouraging to see so many young people, boys and girls alike, really enthused about science.Many organizations were there, each with a project that the kids could really get into physically as well as mentally. At our table for the Cape Cod Maritime Museum we had a buoyancy experiment and then we made our own tiny boats to see if they would float. We added different weights to them and some sank, as might be expected. No fear in these kids, though. They just made a better, stronger boat. My assistant had fun teaching the kids how to make an origami boat, an interesting challenge that involves geometry.

In other news, my Nature’s Ways earned a Top Story spot online on Wicked Local this week. Here’s a link to check it out


My Weekly Nature Watch column can be accessed here–and there’s a portrait of Arlo as a bonus


This happened to be one of my three column weeks as my Neighborhood Nature column appeared in the Barnstable Patriot. People ask me all the time if I write the same column for all three and the answer is….of course not!


As I write this the wind is blowing and snow is supposed to stop by for what is hopefully its last visit this season.

Tomorrow? SPRING!!!! Woohooooooo!


Read my Weekly Nature Watch Column Online

Nothing like a little snow to keep us on our toes! That’s not what I wrote about last week, though…find the links to one of my columns below the photo…the other has not been posted online quite yet.

From the Enterprise on the upper Cape, Weekly Nature Watch–you may have to sign in but they don’t bombard you with emails or anything….


I will post Nature’s Ways when it is posted online. In the meantime you may wish to read it in print!




Book Review: Julie Zickefoose’s Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into a Nest

Hi all–It’s not often I am moved to write a book review but I wanted to share a most wonderful book with all of you. The links will take you to Julie Zickefoose’s blog and website where you can order a copy directly from her. If you are a bird lover, you will love this beautiful book by an amazing artist, naturalist and writer.

Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest

By Julie Zickefoose

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Back in 2005 when I started my blog I did a search for others focusing on art and nature in their blogs and that’s when I found the talented and indomitable Julie Zickefoose. Not only was she a naturalist and artist but she was a Leo married to a Pisces, something she noted on her About page. Guess what? So was I. This tickled me as much as her writing and I’ve followed her blog ever since. We both made the jump to Facebook about the same time and I’ve followed her there as well. If you also follow her, you know she always has something interesting to share, show or tell, day in and day out.

Zickefoose is not only a talented artist and blogger but a well-respected author, with several well received books already on national bookshelves. I saw her speak a few years back and she shared that she was working on a unique book that would integrate her drawings and paintings of baby birds with her observations and scientific notes. Many of us began to look forward to this book as she posted little hints and previews along the way over the next few years.

Finally, the book, Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest was published this spring. I got my copy almost immediately and sat right down to look through it.


Every morning for about a week I sat with my coffee and read a chapter through. Finally, I just read through the last third of the book without stopping. That’s how good and intriguing Zickefoose’s writing is.

Baby Birds chronicles the first few weeks of life in the nest. Zickefoose is a licensed wildlife rehabber so has permission to handle birds, including baby birds and she makes a point of being painstakingly careful when she does. She also makes a point of only handling and studying baby birds that are hatched in cavity nests, such as bird boxes, that are fully protected from potential predators. She reiterates often that she would not do this with open nesters or tree nesters such as robins and cardinals as it would jeopardize the nests and the baby birds.


While drawing and painting, Zickefoose also feeds and warms the tiny charges. She writes of how they grow, how they eat and how they are developing in a way that is both accurate and totally charming. As much of a scientist as she is; Zickefoose can’t help but share her love and affection for these vulnerable little birdlets throughout.


There is plenty of science and factual information to be had between the pages of this wonderful book but it is the magic and the love she sprinkles on every page that drew me in and kept me in. There is no doubt that each of these tiny birds was as precious as could be for her and when the time came to stand back and allow the little birds time and space to fledge, Zickefoose did so gracefully and gratefully. Her stories are totally captivating as are her subjects.


As for the art? Perfectly lovely and charming as well as painstakingly accurate. You will find yourself looking at the illustrations over and over and over again. There is far too much to take in with just a cursory look. These are drawings and paintings to be enjoyed on many levels and over time. I loved all the drawings and paintings but especially loved the one of Zickefoose’s daughter, Phoebe, pondering a phoebe…


This is a book to be treasured and looked at again and again. It is a perfect gift for any bird lover but I think this book would have been my absolute favorite when I was a young wannabe artist and ornithologist, so don’t forget the young people you know. It may seem dense with information for a young person but I would have returned to this book until the pages were worn and fuzzy when I was kid. I would have loved everything about it. Oh wait, I love everything about it now, too.

I have heard Zickefoose speak on several occasions and also traveled to South Africa with her and a group of birders last fall so I will admit I was a fan long before I read the book. Still, I wouldn’t say it was great if I really didn’t think so. I would just say nothing at all. As you can see, I had plenty to say 😉

If you wish to purchase the book you can purchase directly from Julie Zickefoose from her website. Yes, it is cheaper on Amazon but if you buy from her, she makes more money and you get to support a real live person, not a business machine.

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.


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.


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.


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!




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?

What a beautiful Cape Cod summer!

It seems that summer is finally winding down but what a summer it has been here on Cape Cod.  We can still walk barefoot in the sand….
  The morning light has been quite lovely….  Even when it is foggy and a bit gray….
  There’s been time to pop the seed pods of the touch-me-not plants, also called jewelweed….  Mushrooms have been popping up all over….
  And there is still beautiful golden light to be had….  Late summer is the time of yellow….
  And Monarch butterflies…..  There may be a few last water lilies in the ponds…
  And the egrets are gathering in the marshes to feed and fatten up for long flights ahead….  There have been beautiful sunsets….
  And ice cream with beloved grandsons…..
  Building fairy houses with kids in the woods…  And watching for frogs and turtles at the pond….
  There’s been painting at the beach….  Lots and lots of bright sunny days by the sea….
  More lovely sunsets…..  Collecting things to draw….
  Teaching kids how to catch frogs and how to let them go….  There’s been painting in the woods….
 and oh, so many other things….

I love fall but am sad to see the summer leave….it has truly been one of the best I can remember….

Horseshoe crab sheds, not deads!

Right about this time of year everyone gets a little worried about the horseshoe crabs. They see dozens, even hundreds, of what appear to be dead horseshoe crabs washed up on the beach.

They might see them lined up in a wrack line, tossed about in piles of seaweed or just a few here and there as the tide recedes.

  As disturbing as this may seem, it’s perfectly normal for all these old shells, which are the outgrown exoskeletons of the horseshoe crabs to wash ashore. The horseshoe crabs are growing fine new shells that will accommodate their growing bodies. As a friend of mine likes to say, these are sheds, not deads!
  It’s the time of year when birds are molting feathers, mammals are molting summer coats and animals that have exoskeletons may be molting as well. This is why we are seeing all those crab shells on the shore and in the marshes as well. Pick one up. If it is as light as a feather, it’s a molt. If it is heavy and stinky, it is indeed a dead animal so don’t take that one home.  One of the things that fools people is that the sheds have legs, gills and all those important parts. When the crab leaves its shell it takes its actual legs, gills and other parts with it but leaves the old coverings behind. It’s pretty amazing when you stop to think how a horseshoe crab crawls out of its old shell and yet leaves it intact!
  So, if you’re walking the beach this weekend, don’t be surprised to find lots of horseshoe crab shells washed up. This shows that there’s a good population in your area and that’s a good thing for the horseshoe crabs, whose numbers have been dwindling in recent years. And pass the word along when you can….there are a lot of worried people out there thinking that hundreds of horseshoe crabs have died instead of just having molted their shells.

Enjoy the long weekend and get outside!