I used to take great pride in a clean driveway. As I walked the paved trail that led to the deeper, more natural woods of Myles Standish today I took note of the proliferation of pitch pine needles underfoot and had flashbacks to my landscaping days as a teenager. It was the last thing we did at every house. Mow, weedwhack, and blow. We used backpack blowers, an obnoxious whirlwind of sound and movement, blasted the driveways and walkways clear, and then we were gone. I have one, sitting in my garage, but I rarely use it. I've grown to dislike the noise pollution, and only fire it up it for my one-day fall cleanup.
The sky was slate gray today, but the temperatures were fair enough. I was off on another trek through woods that were new to me, old to many others. I took side trails and main trails, narrow paths that caused low-growing plants to grab at my jeans and ancient roads wide enough for a horse-drawn wagon. I found old posts that once defined wood lots and tiny kettlehole ponds so tucked into the dense brush that only the sounds of splashing and honking Canada geese gave them away.
On one side trail I stopped to listen to a beautiful song. I could not figure out to whom it belonged. At that point, I'd heard everything there is to hear in my neck of the woods, or so I thought at that moment. I couldn't figure it out. I could audio-locate it to a white pine, but could not see the bird. It sounded like a drop of water melodically splashing into a bucket, followed by three or four sweetly sung notes. Frustrated after a few minutes, I decided to make it change it's tune. I did a soft screech owl call. It changed to basic calling. Cowbird. Ugh.
On one small pond four buffleheads, two pairs, frolicked. As I walked away, a shadow streaked across the trail in front of me, followed by a loud splash. A female hooded merganser had joined the fun.
I picked up a leaf I couldn't identify, and placed it in the oak family. Turned out to be a bear oak, or what we call a scrub oak, a post-burning emergent tree that eventually gets overwheled by the larger oaks and pines that dominate these woods. At New Long Pond my shoulder brushed against a pitch pine, releasing thousands of midges. I walked upwind and let the breeze carry them away.
Near the parking lot, I met a father and his two daughters. The older one, perhaps three, met me on the trail and held out a small white pine branch, staring at it as she offered it for my viewing pleasure. I hope my son shares the same sense of wonder when it comes time for his first walks with his dad.
Time: 138 minutes.
New species: Amphibians: red-backed salamanders, spring peepers (3).
Stranger hellos: 3 (152).
What else is going on: Worked a full day, including running a woodcock program called "Timberdoodles and Tapas" with my friends Matt and Ellen; organized my tree swallow box data for this year's new NestWatch program; created my osprey monitoring database and entered the year's first sightings from the monitors around the region; checked one group of my salamander coverboards and found 5 redbacks (4 red, one "leadback") under just ten boards; played Wii darts with my father-in-law.