Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June 30, 2009 - Rock Island Cove, Quincy, Massachusetts

This day is one that's always marked in big fat crayon on my calendar, the day we band the ospreys of the South Shore. My role is really one of observer during the day, but I do lots more in the days before and after the event.

First, I find volunteers. That's not always tough, as some of these osprey families have been watched for years by the same people. My job is to corral the information - when the first bird arrived, when the mate returned, when they started building or adding to the nest, when the first chick's head popped up, etc. Then, when banding day looms, I contact all of the monitors from Quincy to Plymouth and give them an ETA. Weather can throw us off, mud can throw us off and the variable numbers of chicks can throw us off, but by the end of the day, we're pretty close to being where we said we'd be when.

This year, due to tides - more on that tomorrow - we started at Great Esker Park in Weymouth and moved through Quincy and Hull on our way to Marshfield. Our second stop, on Hough's Neck, brought us out onto a saltmarsh off Hingham Bay, and a really deep one at that. To get to the pole, we had no choice but to cross an inlet so wide that we couldn't jump it. So we dropped the ladder down into the inlet and climbed down.

The problem was that once we got to the end of the ladder, we sunk into the muck up to our knees. Each of the first three or four steps from there took enormous amounts of effort to extricate our legs. Now I understand how people have been lost in marshes like this as tides come in and night falls. We all made it out alive, and we only nearly lost one boot along the way.

But we made it, our team of six. Norm climbed the pole and announced "Two chicks, one unhatched egg." The chick was about five weeks old - which is about right for right now. It was old enough to hold a band, but not old enough to fly away. Norm said there was some food in the nest, too, a good sign that these little characters were healthy.

We mud-sucked our way back to our convoy and headed south.

Time: 34 minutes.

New species: (Mushrooms) chicken mushroom (18).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: visited five more poles, banded four more chicks; magazine and nonprofit work.

Monday, June 29, 2009

June 29, 2009 - Eames Way, Marshfield, Massachusetts

I say again, did I mention that it was raining?

We're into our twelfth consecutive day of rain, with only short windows of sunshine forcing themselves open here and again, the sky otherwise gloomy.

But a man's gotta walk. I visited the other end of Eames Way today, or at least the other end for me. I usually start my walk on the northern end, the end that has the school. The middle portion of the road exists on paper and in dirt form, inaccessible by cars, across the top of Carolina Hill, crossed by powerlines, but it was never formalized. The southern paved end runs down to Furnace Street.

With the rain falling today, sometimes heavily, the wildlife was hard to come by. The usual singers in these woods - ovenbirds, chickadees, wood thrushes - were doing their thing, but beyond that, the sound of the rain was my only company.

I did notice something that caught me by surprise. Well, two things. First, there was a large, partly chewed russula mushroom right in the heart of the trail. I don't look for them until September, but that's only because I don't look for any mushrooms until then. This year has taught me to be more vigilant earlier on the calendar if I want to truly become an expert in mycological studies.

Secondly, I found a maple tree with leaves already turning their fall colors. Again, I don't think foliage until early October, but from what I've read, red maples will show their colors at different times of the year. For whatever reason, this tree has decided to start its transformation before June is out.

But then, we've turned the corner. The days are getting shorter, and next week we can expect to see the start of fall migration as arctic tundra breeders start their way south. I hear they've had a disastrous breeding season, which could make for an interesting fall.

Time: 65 minutes.

New species: (Mushrooms) fried chicken mushroom, emetic russula, stinky squid, crowded parchment (17).

Stranger hellos: 2 (383).

What else is going on: full day at work; received copies of last week's Hull Times (in which I have two articles) and the July edition of South Shore Living (in which I have two more); finished the text for the book!

June 28, 2009 - River Loop, North River Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshfield, Massachusetts

In reality, the walk down to the river today was just one portion of a greater six-hour day of adult education. I had teachers today, looking to me for guidance. How the world has flipped upside-down, I'll never know.

We'd started the day at the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, getting in more than two hours of walking before arriving here for lunch and our second adventure. We talked about the history of the magnificent old home in which I work, of the cottage just outside the back door, of old Route 3, of the Camperdown Elm tree in the front yard.

We crossed Summer Street and descended into the river valley, watching the tree swallows swoop, discussing American kestrels and their demise, standing in the place where the barn used to be. We plodded through the wet grasses down to the boardwalk that cuts through the skunk cabbage swamp to the observation platform on the river itself. There I let fly my stories of shipbuilding and shipwrecks, of the Columbia, of James Briggs and his boast that he would throw a big stick over his shoulder, join the American troops for the Revolution against the British, knock down a redcoat and steal his gun. Fog hemmed us in, so my stories could only go so far.

Did I mention that it's still raining?

We followed the rest of the loop, past a startlingly beautiful rose-breasted grosbeak, back across the street and into our cars. We had two more stops to go before the day was through.

Time: 49 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) milkweed (74).

Stranger hellos: 9 (381).

What else is going on: continued the day by giving a tour of the Scituate Maritime & Irish Mossing Museum and Cedar Point, Scituate Light and the Jug-in-the-Chimney House; more work on the book.

June 27, 2009- Averill Island, Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Topsfield, Massachusetts

It was wet when I stepped outside of my Weymouth home, of course, but the sun was fighting its way through the clouds above me. All I wanted was a few hours of sunshine with which to work.

We - Charles, Paula and I - stepped onto the Rockery Trail and began a four-hour walk around the Ipswich River sanctuary promptly at 8 a.m. They'd never been here before, and it was my job for the day to show them the highlights of this 2,000 + acre wildlife haven. There was no way I could disappoint them.

We went straight for the Rockery and its pond, stopped in our tracks by a long, fat black racer sunning itself on a boardwalk. It slithered into a beaver lodge, and we moved on. The birdsong was tremendous - red-eyed vireos, great-crested flycatchers, scarlet tanagers, American redstarts, and blue-gray gnatcatchers - and the drumming of a pileated woodpecker helped to alleviate the frustration we were feeling of yet another wet day, our tenth in a row. The sun did come out, making for a humid walk.

At the Rockery, we stumbled across our second mammal of the day. We watched it bound away and knew it wasn't a squirrel, although we would see both red and gray before the day was out. It came around again, curious as could be, and took a gander at us: a short-tailed weasel. We'd already seen three white-tailed deer in the driveway on the way in.

With nothing to do but wander, we strode across the Stonebridge (where I nearly planted my hand on a garter snake also out for some sun) and along the North Esker Trail, straining to see the singing marsh wrens in Hassocky Meadow. We looped the White Pine Loop and stopped to peek at pickerel frogs on the way to Averill Island. That's where we made ourr big discovery of the day. The Old Man of the Mountain, above, has moved from the White Mountains to Averil Island.

At the Gazebo on the South Esker Trail, I noticed a red-eyed vireo's nest dangling between thin branches as a wood thrush sang nearby. At the Bunker Meadows observation tower, we watched a painted turtle struggling to get onto a wet, rolling log. It never did.

As we sat down to lunch at a picnic table, we noticed that the show was by no means over. Cedar waxwings munched on mulberries as an eastern bluebird sought bugs. The next generation of white-breasted nuthatches was learning to climb up and down trees, following on mom's tail feathers closely. A pair of cardinal chicks begged for food from their parents.

By the time we got home, the rain had started again. We had chosen our window wisely, and shared a wonderful day on the trails.

Time: 342 minutes.

New species: (Mammals) short-tailed weasel (ermine) (29); (Reptiles) black racer (6); (Amphibians) pickerel frog (14); (Wildflowers in Bloom) rhododendron, St. Johnswort, pickerel weed, arrow arum (73); (Mushrooms) tinder polypore (13).

Stranger hellos: 14 (372).

What else is going: gave a lecture on the life of Moses Binney Tower of Hingham for the Tower Family Reunion after an excellent lecture by Diane Rapaport on her book The Naked Quaker.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

June 26, 2009 - Russell-Sawmill Ponds Conservation Area, North Plymouth, Massachusetts

Having to take a closer look at our local habitats, thanks to the Breeding Bird Atlas 2 project, has given Massachusetts naturalists more incentive than ever to go places they've never gone before.

We've visited Plymouth's Hedge's Pond and Sheep Pond many times before on our regular Friday birding trips out of Marshfield, but every trip has either been on a rainy day or in the heart of winter. They're good duck watching spots. We had no idea there was any more to see.

Then, one day, David, my co-leader, stopped and stepped out of his car. He found a trail, and was amazed at how far into the woods it actually wound. We headed there this morning for our first walk of the day.

Did I mention it's still raining?

We walked straight ahead, up a gentle slope, past the ponds, which, according to the name of the conservation area, must have powered a local sawmill. There are very few ponds in southeastern Massachusetts that are natural. Most are manmade.

The trail wound through the woods revealing manyof the typical wildflowers of disturbed areas, like the rattlesnake weed we found by the side of the trail. A few mushrooms have arrived, which is not surprising, considering the month of June we've had. But our big mystery of the day - and I mean big - was a tree we found on a bend in the trail. Out immediate thought was that due to the size of its leaves it had to be a tropical species. We were close.

Upon closer inspection and comparison to images and details in the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees, our final hypothesis tags it as a bigleaf magnolia. There are several magnolias that it shares qualities with, but the kicker - other than the humongous leaves, the biggest in North America - was the note in the book that said it was "Planted as an ornamental, north to Massachusetts." Before this was conservation land, it was a private estate. Whoever lived here apparently had some funds to plant an odd variety of trees, or at least one odd species. If there's one thing the Victorians believed in, it was that it was just as important to be seen as to see the wealth of others. I'll bet this was their idea.

Time: 61 minutes.

New species: (Birds) black-billed cuckoo (258); (Mushrooms) common laccaria, kidney-shaped tooth (12); (Wildflowers in Bloom) rattlesnake weed, pasture thistle, daisy fleabane (69).

Stranger hellos: 2 (358).

What else is happening: Full day at work; first strategy session for a new fundraising idea I have for the Hull Public Library; chatted with a writer friend from California.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

June 25, 2009 - Macomber's Ridge, Marshfield, Massachusetts

Make it nine in a row. Another day, another morning of rain. I even now have a leak in my car. Water is everywhere. But by the time I got to the place I wanted to walk today, it seemed the worst was over.

I started at the site of the old Marshfield Hills train station at the intersection of Macomber's Ridge and Damon's Point Road. The ridge is exactly that, a spine of land that rises above the surrounding South River marsh. I get the sense, though, that while nature did most of the work, the road that leads the rest of the way out to Trouants Island was aided along by the hand of man.

It slides along like a gentle roller coaster, a short, low, wide open stretch that leads into a rise. That hummock is lined with seemingly incongruous oak trees, but this phenomenon is not endemic only to this spot. The Secret Trail at the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary is exactly the same, an upland hummock surrounded by low wetlands, populated predominantly by oaks. I'll bet if I looked around some more, I'd find more examples.

The rain stopped entirely about thirty minutes into my little adventure in mud. A wounded great black-backed gull, with an obvious broken wing, has taken up residence on the road, walking ahead of me as fast as possible, then giving me a wide berth and scurrying off to my rear as I passed. We danced the same dance on the way back. Humarock appeared in the distant fog, with an osprey pole at the southern end of Trouants Island.

As for the "worst of it" being over, I spoke too soon. The rain certainly ended, but that just gave rise to the reign of the mosquito. Thankfully, there were hungry tree and barn swallows around.

Time: 63 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) Indian pipe (66).

Stranger hellos: 4 (356).

What else is happening: Full day at work; book work; finished reading Take Me Out to the Ballgame: The Story of the Sensational Baseball Song by Amy Whorf McGuiggan.

June 24, 2009 - Shore Acres, Scituate, Massachusetts

Eighth day of rain in a row, and the twenty-first in twenty-four days. And on those other three days, we only had partial sunshine, not full. Ugh.

I walked Shore Acres today, near Egypt Beach. There are a couple of ponds on the ocean side of Hatherly Road, known as the sheep ponds, and I would surmise that at some point, they were used in a way that gave them their names. Today they're duck ponds, more or less.

Shore Acres has the ring of the 1890s about it. In all my research over the years about that decade and the first one of the twentieth century. Scituate was being discovered at that time as more than a destination, as a place that one could own a second home, rather than rent a hotel room. Developers would buy up huge lots of what was once farmland and slice it into straight-lined streets, with the land in between just wide enough to support small cottages. Over time, summer homes became passe or, perhaps, less affordable (especially during the Depression and World War II), and they were converted to year-round homes. I'm not sure that's what happened here - but the vibe is sure strong.

Everything about nature is wet today. The rain was coming down steadily, but in more of a heavy mist than a solid downpour. I'm not worried about nature, it'll rebound. We'll lose some nestlings this year, for sure, but the parents are working hard to feed their baby birds. I'm more concerned for old homes right now, the preservationist side in me coming out. Once water starts getting in and starts to rot away wood, homes are in danger. Three weeks of rain has caused damage somewhere, no doubt.

Will it ever end?

Time: 58 minutes.

New species: (Mammals) southern red-backed vole (28); (Reptiles) ring-necked snake (5); (Mushrooms) painted suillus (10).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: Full day at work, including flipping 80 coverboards in our salamander research project; dinner with Michelle, my mom and sister; book work; nonprofit work.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June 23, 2009 - Old Mouth Road, Scituate, Massachusetts

Sucks to be a turkey right now, I reckon. That's usually a November thing, but this spring will probably be even more detrimental to wild turkeys than any November has ever been.

More rain today, seventh day in a row, and that's where the turkeys come in. It hasn't just been this spell; we've had lots of rain for a long time this spring. When wild turkey poults are hatched they're susceptible to stretching tendons in their legs that leave them splayed upon their rumps on the ground, unable to stand. Once so stuck, they become easy prey, and, if they're lucky enough to avoid being eaten, they will quickly run out of food themselves.

Why does the rain matter? In particularly wet springs, young turkeys have multitudinous chances to take that wrong step, the one that will cause them to slide and stretch that tendon, leaving them helpless.

All that said, I did not see a turkey today.

No, instead, I walked down by the beach, at the southern end of the Humarock peninsula, where the old mouth of the North River was until 1898. I saw grackles and gulls and finches and robins, but that doesn't mean I couldn't have been thinking about turkeys.

Time: 30 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) lance-leaved coreopsis (65).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going down: full day at work; work on the book; nonprofit work.

Monday, June 22, 2009

June 22, 2009 - Governor John Davis Long Sanctuary, Hingham, Massachusetts

We're in the midst of our sixth straight day of rain, and today has been the heaviest fall yet. We've got a coastal storm pounding us, just sitting stationary off our shores, dumping the wetness upon us.

As I walked today I wondered about something I thought I knew for sure. I've always equated leaves being blown by wind and showing their lighter undersides with pending or falling rain. As a kid, I used to know rain was on the way if I saw that happening. I probably was told that by my father, but what does it really mean? Does it have to do with the air pressure systems clashing that are causing the disturbance in the first place? High pressure pushing low pressure, causing the air to move down low?

The winds were blasting the rain sideways as I walked the trail down to the overlook. Wow, has this place changed. I used to mow the lawn of the house abutting the roadway, and in those days the town kept a nursery for trees and shrubs here. Gone. Not a trace. And the house itself has grown in tremendous ways.

There's not thirty minutes of walkable ground in the sanctuary, but I've never been unable to stretch a minute into an hour. It took some meandering, but I made it work. The mosquitoes were with me, battered by the rain, flying up in clouds wherever I stepped, chomping at my calves, starved by the storm. Pine cones, prematurely dropped by the storm and robbed of their potential, rested green and fresh on the grass.

At 29 minutes and 59 seconds I paused beside the door of my car, waiting for the last tick of the clock. One second later, I was on my way to dryness.

Time: 30 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: In this rain?

What else is going on: submitted three articles to South Shore Living magazine; bank, post office, errands; worked on the books.

June 21, 2009 - South Shore Hospital, Weymouth, Massachusetts

It was more of a visit than a walk, but it was by far the most important moment of my day. But the fact is that to get into this hospital and find the right room is certainly an exercise in, well, exercise. Luckily, parking was good today, but Michelle and I still had a long way to go to find our goal.

I met my niece today.

We came bearing gifts, tiny dresses and skirts and onesies for baby Caroline. We even picked up a stuffed Minnie Mouse for Ava, so she would know she was still loved, and that being an older sister isn't going to be such a bad deal after all. But Ava had gone home for the day with her grandparents. We called my father in Florida to share the news, and joked with my Uncle Joey about what Nick and Kerri have ahead of them.

I held Caroline for the first time, and so did Michelle. Our son is now more than twenty pounds, at eight months, and this little critter was less than seven. Her tiny fingers grasped Michelle's hand.

We didn't stay long. I kissed her on the forehead, happily anticipating several decades of playing uncle to another precious little one, and we promised to see them all later.

Time: 40 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: wrote two articles for the Hull Times; worked on the books; celebrated my first Father's Day with dinner at Michelle's parents' house; laundry, yard work, etc.

June 20, 2009 - Hingham Centre, Hingham, Massachusetts

Pete's Barber Shop is as good a place to start as any, so I set out after getting a fresh cut and enjoyed the sights. Of course, I've been here before.

There's Pete's, of course. I've been getting cut there for over a decade, and once ran into a famous historian and had a great chat while waiting to get trimmed. But that's just recent history.

As a kid, my family used to come here for 4th of July parades. We have pictures of the five of us in the most godawful 1970s get-ups you ever saw. More plaid than I've ever worn again. And then there's the gas station, which I knew as Gelo's, an Arco station my dad's landscape trucks used to fill up at. And around the corner on Leavitt Street was Dr. DiMaggio's office, where I got my teeth cleaned every so often, and flipped through copies of Highlights for Kids in the waiting room.

Down the street, in my landscaping days, we cut the lawn of Mrs. Abbe, an older woman with a funky, architecturally interesting house. Her backyard was, quite frankly, a pain in the ass to take care of. Oh, it was beautiful, but to get the lawnmower down into the tiny circular patch of grass in the vale below we had to lift them up and carry them, making sure we didn't hit any of the railroad tie steps that lent rustic appeal. I'll never forget the day that my brother got stung by a bee and Mrs. Abbe came out of the house with an old-fashioned book of remedies. "I'll make up a salve!" she said, and slapped the paste on Nick's arm. He jumped about three feet in the air and screamed from the pain.

I could go on - the fire station, the cemetery, the ancient and enormous sycamore tree, the Grand Army Hall, the house that used to play a recording of baying wolves on Halloween that my father told me were the Hounds of the Baskervilles. Hingham Centre has played many roles in my life, and when I take my son for his first haircut in the months to come, another chapter will be opened.

Time: 38 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: Welcomed my newest niece, Caroline born this evening; work on the books.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

June 19, 2009 - Pemberton Point, Hull, Massachusetts

I just couldn't take it any more. I was sitting in my car underneath the windmill at Pemberton Point watching as two groups of people were feebly attempting to skip rocks on the glassy surface of Hull Gut. Each throw ended in a splash, a disappearing stone and shrugged shoulders. I stepped out, and began my search.

Skipping rocks is a rite of passage for kids growing up in Hull. Everyone knows it really can't be done on the ocean side, it has to be done on the bayside, where the waters are calmer. And the rock has to be perfect, which is not a problem, as there are hundreds of thousands to choose from along the shore. It has to be flat, fit in the palm of the hand, and preferably round. There's a certain feeling to a skipping rock that is like no other.

The second skip is in the delivery. Anybody can get lucky and get that first jump. It's the second one, and all those beyond that, that require technique. It's a sidearm throw, one that brings the arm to the level of the water, or just inches above it. Dan Quisenberry, the Kansas City Royals' reliever, would have been the ultimate skipper, or perhaps the Pirates' Kent Tekulve. It's the spinning set off by the jerking of the index finger along the spine of the rock as it leaves the hand that makes it go.

I got out of the car not meaning to show anybody up. I even walked well out of sight of the other skippers to make my throws. After seeing so many plunkers, I just had to see one skip properly. I wound up and threw, and got what I needed. As the rock went from countable skips to simply skimming across the water like a duck coming in for a landing, a rush of endorphins headed for my brain.

Oh, that's the stuff.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: covered the change of command at the Point Allerton Coast Guard station for the Hull Times; half a day at work; covered the induction ceremony for the Hull High Athletic Hall of Fame for the Hull Times; receivced my copies of the Captains's Guide MegaYachts Edition and Captain's Seaside Guide, to which I contirbuted numerous articles this spring; received the Hull Times Guide to Summer, in which I have an article on boating safety; finished reading Carolyn Matthews' True Stories of Rescue and Survival: Canada's Unknown Heroes and reviewed it for both Wreck & Rescue Journal and Amazon.com.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

June 18, 2009 - Harrington's Wilderness, Marshfield, Massachusetts

I know Harrington. That, to me. is very cool.

There are memorials all over the world: memorial parks, memorial schools, memorial fields, memorial stones. They all have one thing in common. You have to die to have them named for you. But Warren Harrington is alive and well, enjoying the heck out of his life. He can actually enjoy his wilderness.

For years, Warren was the conservation agent in Marshfield. He worked hard, very hard to save open space in town, and Marshfield is a better place for his efforts. Just one place, Carolina Hill, is more than 700 acres in size. 700 acres! That's as big as Matinicus Island off Maine, or...700 Acre Island, also off Maine.

The walk today, on land I'd never set foot on before, took me up and over the hill, and back over it again. I knew that as long as I kept the sound of Route 3A in the distance, I could find my way back. I just kept making right turns on the trails. My greatest companions today were wood thrushes and ovenbirds. I crossed the paths of three mother-young ovenbird pairs. The youngsters flitted into trees and then the mothers arrived, crests raised, frantically looking about for whatever startled their little ones.

As I walked I thought about Warren and my favorite story about him. Birders have strange traditions. He's the Mountain Dew guy; every 500th bird (from what Ive heard) he drinks a Mountain Dew in celebration. One year he was in Africa with a friend of mine, and hit a milestone, 3000 or something. David looked at him and wondered where he'd find a Mountain Dew on the Dark Continent. Warren reached into his suitcase, produced a sock, and from within, a Mountain Dew, sucking it down.

I don't have a ritual, as I'm not even close to 500 yet. And I don't have a wilderness either. But if I look around, I might have a Mountain Dew.

Time: 75 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) whorled loosestrife (64).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: Long, long day at work; work on the book, always the book; got my copy of the Plymouth County Business Review, which includes an article I wrote on Marshfield.

June 17, 2009 - Green Harbor, Marshfield, Massachusetts

It's kind of spooky, living and working as closely to a nuclear power plant as I do. Ninety-nine percent of the time I just go about my business and completely forget that it's there. And then there are days like today.

I was in search of a bird, an alder flycatcher that possibly nested at Green Harbor last year. I didn't hear its call, didn't see it in the trees, so I got out of my car and spent some time on foot. It's yet another breeding bird atlas thing. Don't worry, there are only two more months to go.

So I walked the grounds near the town pier at the harbor. This is where it all began for Marshfield, where William Green - yes, of Green's Harbor - settled in the seventeenth century, where Edward Winslow and his family moved to after leaving the plantation at Plymouth. A protected harbor meant much more to the original settlers than it does to us today. When relying on traffic from Europe for the basic necessities of life, a port was a wonderful thing.

Then it snuck up on me.

I heard a crow squawk, and turned around. I had never noticed the nuclear meltdown siren in the harbor before, and it kind of startled me for a second. But it didn't scare me nearly as much as it would the crow, had it gone off at that very moment.

Time: 32 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: full day at work including our volunteer appreciation cookout; more work on the latest book.

June 16, 2009 - Owl Quest, Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshfield, Massachusetts

I've written three quests so far. I don't put them on my resume with the books, but they're there. I wrote them for my full-time job, offering folks new ways to walk the same trails. It was a fun process and who knows, I may have a few more in me before I'm done.

I had to walk the owl quest route today, to do some repair work. The whole concept is inversely seasonal, of course. Owls are most prevalent on these grounds in winter, and we're close to the first day of summer. And it's noon. Yup, little chance of finding an owl today.

But that's the beauty of the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary. Despite the season there's always something going on that has to do with owls. Right now, at this very second, on June 16, it's the grass. The grasses that grow in the hundreds of acres of fields are shelter for generation after generation of mice and voles. When those grasses are cut and/or die back this fall, as part of our management plan for nesting grassland birds, the mice will be exposed, and the owls will move in. That's what we do. We grow mice, as my old boss used to say.

I walked through the grasses, dodging ticks, and placed the quest box in its secret hiding place. I walked another path out, stopping for wildflowers (like the pineapple weed, above, which really smells like pineapple) and mushrooms, enjoying the sunshine and the frozen moment in time. I walk here at least twice a week throughout the year, for multifarious reasons, and each time is brand new. There's something to be said for variety, but here's to repetitiveness.

Time: 49 miunutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) pineapple weed, small white aster, American lotus (63); (Mushrooms) cloudy clytocybe, almond-scented russula (9).
Stranger hellos: 1 (352).
What else is going on: finished one manuscript and mailed it away, nearly finished the second; meeting in preparation of the Hull High Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony later this week.

June 15, 2009 - Norwell Center, Norwell, Massachusetts

I was working with my dad as a landscaper about a decade ago, taking care of a huge estate here in town. Rock star. Pretty fun. He had a guy working around the estate for him who we called Parky. Everybody called him Parky, and that was all we knew of him. He was about two decades older than my dad, and the two of them threw back and forth their sharp-tongued Boston area wit pretty heavily. We mowed, we laughed, we trimmed, we laughed and we laughed.

One day I said, "Dad, what's Parky's real name?"

"You know, I don't know, let's ask him. Parky!"

"What, Bob?"

"What's your first name?"


"What's your last name?"


"So they call you Parky?"

"Warren PARKER Merritt!" And we laughed.

My memories of Norwell Center mostly have to do with those days, but I've found some other interesting things as I've passed through or walked around. I judged a "books in bloom" contest at the James Library there last year. I've located the graves of three young men lost in the Portland Gale of 1898 in the North River. And I've stopped to take a look at the door pictured here.

When I was working with the Scituate Historical Society (Norwell was a part of Scituate until the 1840s, only named for Henry Norwell in 1888), we did a huge celebration of the Thomas W. Lawson story on the hundredth anniversary of his estate. I even coauthored a book on it with a friend. The "Copper King" made his fortune, moved to Scituate and created a huge farm, then sold it in pieces. There are small houses from the estate all over the local area, and then there's this: a doorway, supposedly from his chicken coop, tucked away between businesses up in Norwell Center. Although Parky might not have known thsi story, his father most likely did, Joseph Foster Merritt, author of Anecdotes of North River and South Shore, among other local history titles. Open the book and check out the author's picture. He looks like Parky.

Sorry, Warren PARKER Merritt.

Time: 36 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) common fleabane (60).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: heavy work on two books at once, deadlines looming; birthday dinner for Michelle's mom with the whole gang.

Monday, June 15, 2009

June 14, 2009 - Stellwagen Bank, Massachusetts

I know, impossible, right? Not really. Whalewatching can be an adventure, as sightings can keep a person running from port to starboard and bow to stern for hours. From the moment I stepped out of the car until I sat down in it again, I was on my feet, a total of nearly eight hours. Even ate lunch on foot.

This wasn't an ordinary whalewatch. New Englanders are good at that game, though. We were among the world's most proficient whalers a century and a half ago, but it wasn't until the 1970s that we discovered that the concept of whalewatching was worth big bucks. So we did a little of that. But this trip, organized by a friend, Krill, had much more than that in mind when it left the Town Pier in Plymouth. There were seabirds to be seen, and hopefully more.

The rain didn't help. No sooner had she announced that the radar showed rain over our heads than it started to physically materialize. Almost everybody rushed for cover, meaning that the overhang on the top deck, where I had set up camp, was overcrowded, making early sightings a bit frustrating. But things soon cleared up, and we had a gorgeous day in which to all play google-eyed tourists. Shearwaters skimmed the ocean's surface. Northern gannets blasted into the water in dives for fish. Wilson's storm-petrels danced on the water nipping at plankton. And then the whales came.

Dome, Milkweed and Whisk were first. Then came Sloop, Savannah Anvil and Belly. Humpbacks are identifiable by the cuts and scrapes on their tails, and as such, can be individually named, an obvious boon for researchers try to decipher longterm trends. Zeppelin showed up, as did Music and Softserve. Music was healing from a ship strike, and several of the others we saw - 24 humpbacks, including some calves, a finback and a minke - had evidence of entanglements with fishing gear. Some kick-fed, slapping their tails on the water, others steamed along for some deep feeding. Still others breached, possibly to communicate with others, maybe just for fun, we don't know.

The true surprise of the day came toward the end of the trip, off Race Point in Provincetown. Two huge basking sharks - cetorhinus maximus, or "big-nosed monster of the sea" -plowed along with their mouths gaping open, filtering through as much plankton as they could find. The world's second-largest shark feeds on some of the world' tiniest organisms, gently gliding through the oceans, sometimes basking on the surface like they did today. As I said, that was a bonus. The trip's official organizer, the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance, has a program called NEBShark, or the New England Basking Shark Project. Sightings like ours today go a long way to figuring out the lives and needs of these amazing creatures.

It's a different world offshore. Just like we fight onshore to keep the world safe for nature, folks like Krill and NECWA and my many friends at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary are doing the same offshore. I only wish my life had taken me down the path of appreciation of the field earlier, as when I step off the bank, I usually feel like I'm leaving the place I'm supposed to be.

Time: 429 minutes.

New species: (Mammals) humpback whale, finback whale, minke whale (27); (Birds) Wilson's storm-petrel, sooty shearwater, greater shearwater, Manx shearwater, northern fulmar, pomarine jaeger, parasitic jaeger, black-legged kittiwake (257).

Stranger hellos: None - but an amazing number of friends.

What else is going on: dinner with Michelle and her whole family; came in second in a game of Quiddler.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

June 13, 2009 - Winslow Cemetery, Marshfield, Massachusetts

I guess it's just one of those "wow, I never knew this was here" moments again. It's not that I didn't know the cemetery was here. I just had never walked far enough into it to see what was really special about it.

I had planned on walking Winslow Cemetery Road this morning, just before leading a three-hour nature walk at the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, but found that my time was usurped by the ghosts of Marshfield's past. I never left the graveyard.

I knew Daniel Webster was here. He's Marshfield's most prominent and famous citizen. He was a politician, born in New Hampshire, moved to Marshfield, who made a splash on the national stage in the early years of the nineteenth century. But he was also just damn good at speaking in public. Among his greatest accomplishments were hammering out the Maine-Canada border with Lord Ashburton, right here in town, and delivering the dedication speech at the Bunker Hill Monument. My favorite quote came from that day. When the rowdy, excitable crowd was pushing its way forward and disallowing the commencement of the ceremonies, somebody said, "We can't get them back, it's impossible." To which Webster boomed, "This is Bunker Hill. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!" and the crowd moved back.

What an epithet to carry through history: "statesman and orator." I'll end up with something like "babbling blogger."

He owned the lands abutting the cemetery, and knew well the history of the people who came before him at Green Harbor, the local neighborhood. There was the Winslow family. Edward is buried here, the founder of Marshfield, as is Josias, an early governor of Massachusetts. The Thomases lived here, too, famous for housing British troops on the outbreak of war who had to scuttle their way across marshy wetlands to the safety of ships at sea before the local townsmen reached them with their pitchforks and rifles.

What I really didn't know was that there was an early meetinghouse built on what is now cemetery land. There are several stones - purported to be of early settlers - that are simply uninscribed, unmarked mounds of stone set in the earth. They made me wonder. The Native Americans on Block Island, Rhode Island, buried their dead in this way. Do we have certain documentation saying that these stones are those of white settlers, or could they belong to the natives?

Time:46 minutes.

New species: (Butterflies) Monarch! (12).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: work on the book; led the walk; got interviewed for a magazine article on a couple of dear friends; worked our decoy carvers show at Audubon for the afternoon; dinner with Michelle's family - mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law-to-be, the latter pair up from Maryland for the weekend.

Friday, June 12, 2009

June 12, 2009 - Weir River Estuary Park, Hull, Massachusetts

We wouldn't even think of running a four-lane road through a freshwater marsh today, but when George Washington Boulevard was laid out in the early 1930s in anticipation of lessening heavy traffic to and from Nantasket Beach, such environmental sensibilities were not yet considered. What a fantastic sanctuary this could have been.

Today, all we have are two small lots, one on either side of the highway, that view opposite sides of the marsh. They're populated by cedars, autumn olives, the occasional oak tree and lots of beautiful wild flowers. The problem is that it's all within hearing distance of cars flying up the road at 60 miles per hour or more, and for what? Paragon Park has been gone for two decades, and the fact is that most of the people headed for and away from Nantasket Beach use Route 228 anyway. It's an outdated, antiquated highway.

A group of locals, some of whom I certainly consider freinds, started a movement a few years ago to save these last two bits of land on the estuary as wild parks, and have even grabbed a building on the boulevard to turn into their nature and gathering center. From there they can see an osprey platform, can watch the spinning blades of Hull Wind II, the windmill helping to lessen the town's dependence on fossil fuel use and, of course, the beauty of the river.

I've had many wonderful moments here. I once stood on the bridge with a guy named Leo, doing research on Hull's anglers, when he mentioned a recent sighting of a small shark in the river. No sooner did he say it than a fin rolled in the water below us. I've seen turkey vultures roosting in the trees. The view across the way is of World's End Reservation anyway, one of the beauty spots on the South Shore.

I'm not one to tune out nature, so I don't know how to get around the audio conundrum at the park. I don't necessarily want to hear the cars going by, but then, I don't want to lose the sounds of nature either. I guess if nature has learned to live with it, so can I.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: (Birds) willet, least tern, bank swallow (249); (Wildflowers in Bloom) field hawkweed, bittersweet nightshade, rough-fruited cinquefoil, white campion (Mushrooms) white dunce cap (7).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: led my typical 3 1/2 hour Friday morning bird walk; lots of work on the book; wrote a magazine article for South Shore Living.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

June 11, 2009 - Cedar Acres, Marshfield, Massachusetts

I woke up topday and looked at the number. Today would be 163. That would mean that after I took my walk today, I would have walked enough days in a row to play an entire baseball season and a one-game playoff. It also would mean that as much as I've walked, I still have more than 200 days ahead of me to make it a full year. It's good to have goals.

I surmised, when I began walking down Cedar Acres Road, that it was once a singular farm. The entry is marked by old stone walls on either side, like so much of Marshfield is. And today there is still a farm on site, a horse farm, a little bit of old New England still alive. But here, the cedars are the thing.

They're everywhere, and for once, something made me think good thoughts about a developer. Somebody got his hands on this land and made a killing selling it off in lots. It could have been a disaster. The cedars could have been lost. They could have ended up in fence posts (not a bad use for them, actually) or even in the fireplace. Come to think of it, if you've ever gotten a good nose full of cedar smoke fumes, that's not so bad either. But this is the best case scenario. They're still alive and still standing, lending their character to this quiet little section of town.

Every yard has one, and many yards have more than one. Some have been shaved a bit, the lower branches cut away to make room for cars to pass underneath into driveways. Others are thick and full, creating shady glens under which ground plantings creep and crawl. The homeowners were given the raw materials, and they adapted them as they wanted.

In a world of Helen Streets and Arthur Roads, Cedar Acres is one place that absolutely makes sense. Naturally.

Time: 59 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) larger blue flag, black medick, yarrow (58).

Stranger hellos: 3 (351).

What else is going on: gave a lecture for the Duxbury Senior Center on Mass Audubon's Coastal Waterbird Program; full day at work; more on the book.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

June 10, 2009 - Penikese Island, Massachusetts

I'm going to go with an "o."

My trip to Penikese today was a work thing. I'll be co-leading trips out there later this year, and of course I wanted to know where I would be going and what I would be talking about. I know the island's history; I had just never set foot on it.

I was joined by two people today. First, Ian will be my co-leader when we go out in September. It's really his program and I'm the hired gun. Second, we were joined by David Sibley, the author of the Sibley field guides to birds. I left my copy in my car.

We were the guests of the Penikese Island School, a boys' institution set up in a truly rustic setting. The island is only 75 acres in size, a couple of hills connected by an isthmus. The builders of the school wanted it to be like an old family farm, constructing it on the foundations of an old school and lab from the nineteenth century. Those buildings were first, though, transformed into the state's short-lived leper colony. We visited the graves of 14 people who died on the island of the disease.

We also walked to the edge of a common tern colony, hiking our telescopes high above our heads to keep the birds from diving directly onto our scalps. David picked out a first-year arctic tern for us, and then we learned that there were two nests on the island among the 1100 or so common tern nests and innumerable roseate tern nests.

We stepped past several gull nests, herring mostly, but obviously some great black-backed, based on their persistent swoops at our craniums. They meant business. But the moment of the day came in connection with a stone wall.

There's a species of bird out here that does not nest anywhere else in Massachusetts, the Leach's storm-petrel. It nests in the stone wall, or should I say they - at this point, apparently six of them - nest in the stone wall. They cannot be seen by day, as the adults head out to sea to forage for food, but they can be heard at night when they return to the nests. During sunlight hours, you have one chance to figure out whether or not they're there: you smell the nest. So we did. We smelled the spaces between the rocks and located the nests.

When we compile checklists at the end of a day's birding, we use checkmarks for anything we see, and might put an "a" for "audio" for birds we heard but didn't see. What do you put for a bird you didn't see or hear, but smelled? I'm going to put an "o" for "olfactory."

Time: 324 minutes.

New species: (Birds) glossy ibis, arctic tern, roseate tern (246); (Wildflowers in Bloom) multiflora rose, horn poppy, American vetch (55).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: more work on the book.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

June 9, 2009 - House Rock Park, Weymouth, Massachusetts

I approached the park today knowing what I would find - evidence of arson, graffiti, broken beer bottles, the things one usually finds in a Weymouth public space. I determined to keep an open mind and concentrate on the hidden beauty of it instead, to try to remain positive.

It is a park that's mostly wooded, save for the small field that greets one at the entrance. A chipping sparrow sang overhead and robins poked at the lawn. Moving across the grass, I targeted the rock itself.

Yes, House Rock. A rock that's as big as a house. The biggest glacial erratic boulder in New England. Seven million pounds. Yet no one knows it's here.

People once did. It was exactly the type of natural oddity that fascinated the Victorians. They visited here, built a little park around it, including a little wet grotto, took black and white photographs of themselves in front of it and mailed postcards to friends saying, "You simply must see it to believe it!" Now, that's impossible. Trees have grown up in front of it, so there is no way to take an all-encompassing photograph of it. I moved on.

Behind the rock are some paths that are very well worn. They move immediately into one of the burned areas. The small trees that survived the fire - and this being just the most recent one - are blackened at least halfway up their trunks. Others stand dead where they are, no longer trees, just snags. The predominant shrub in the area is highbush blueberry, a plant that emerges after a fire. This place has seen many, many acts of arson over time.

Nature rebounds, though. An eastern towhee sang lustily from a tree the entire time I walked. A great-crested flycatcher called from the top of the rocky ledge and a Baltimore oriole carried food to its nest. A juvenile chipping sparrow waited for its mother to call out, then landed beside her and took a gob of caterpillar into its bill. I was having a good time, despite my preconceived notions.

But then, of course, disappointment hit. I watched a s a young man in a gray hooded sweatshirt lit up a joint, took a hit, saw me, and scampered down the hill. He called out to a friend, a car door slammed and a rattling engine started and rumbled into the distance.

This place could be such a gem, but I fear it's seen its best days.

Time: 48 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) frostweed (52).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: more heavy work on the book - so close to the end!

June 8, 2009 - My Yard, Weymouth, Massachusetts

I've been busting my hump in front of the computer screen for the past week trying to get some projects out of the way before summer truly hits. As such, I cut myself short on time today, and knew that I wouldn't have a chance to go very far from home for a walk. I got my thirty minutes in, behind a lawnmower, so the exercise portion of my plan certainly fell into place. But I also decided to take a tip from Hannah Holmes.

Who's she, you say? She's a travel writer who figured out she had never really focused on what was in her own backyard - literally. She wrote a book, Suburban Safari, that tells of her immersion into the world of her grass, her flocks of American crows, and her own perosnal chipmunk. I pay attention to the bits and pieces of my yard, but never took the time to explore it in total like she did. Today was the day.

It's not much to venture through, to be sure. A pool and deck takes up eighty percent of my backyard, where there's nary a tree to be seen, and a two-story three-car garage devours more of what would be yard. Where I have a small patch of grass out back, though, there are mushrooms, that make me wonder if the remains of a tree - or something else made of wood - are buried out back. They're not out yet, but will be this fall. And based on the amount of rain we've gotten this spring, my guess is they'll be pretty healthy.

My front yard is alive. There are a few trees that line the driveway on the property line that last year hosted a Baltimore oriole's nest. This year, we've got starlings. Today, once I turned off the mower and headed for the weedwacker, I could hear the youngsters calling from the nest. It's high in the tree, well above the spot where I place my feeders, where the mother downy woodpecker comes for her suet. And yes, I have a chipmunk living in my retaining wall.

Out on the lawn, Robby and Julia (Michelle's names for our American robins) forage in the freshly cut grass. I wonder if the rumblings of the mower stirred the earthworms into movement? A chipping sparrow sings and lands on the lawn near the dandelion patch that has taken over a section of the yard. Grackles flew by as a fish crow honked its nasal call.

I have our "yard bird" list in my head, but should certainly start writing it down. I know what to count on when, like the chimney swifts that return every year in spring, but get worried when things don't happen like they should. Where are my little brown bats this year? Granted, I haven't been in the pool much yet, where I usually see them at sunset, but the few times I've checked, they haven't been there.

So, yes, Hannah, I'm with you. I, too, know that there's bountiful life right here in my yard, and will never take it for granted. By the way - loved the book.

Time: 55 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: heavy work on the book - nearing the finish line!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

June 7, 2009 - Atlas Training, Myles Standish State Forest, Carver, Massachusetts

I don't really have any clue what to call the trails we walked today. That was the fun part. Well, what am I saying? The entire process was fun.

Several weeks ago I gave a lecture at the Myles Standish State Forest, talking about the state's Breeding Bird Atlas 2 project. In my role as a nature educator, I've taken on several sub-roles, including regional coordinator for the statewide project. That night we discussed the project digitally and conceptually. Today, we walked the walk.

There was a pretty good crowd. The Friends of Myles Standish State Forest is a new but healthy group. They had advertised, and people showed up. One guy informed me that he didn't know the difference between a pine warbler and a pterodactyl. I started from the ground up.

We had some good sightings, despite the time of day. We found a mute swan with a single cygnet. There were obviously many more not too long ago, but this pond was one where the snapping turtles were probably lurking in good numbers. It's a sad thought, but certainly a probable one. But turtles gotta eat, too.

We saw a northern flicker carrying food to a nest, but never saw it reach the nest. We had more chipping sparrows than we needed, and even saw an eastern wood-pewee through a scope - not an easy task at all.

By the end of the day we'd seen 22 species of birds, confirming a handful as breeders, which was the goal all along. I made some new friends, I think, and hopefully encouraged a few to become citizen scientists. And, if nothing else, we all had a good walk on yet another beautiful, sunny day.

Time: 118 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) water lily (51).

Stranger hellos: 5 (348).

What else is happening: popped into our native plant sale at work; some work on the pool, some weeding, some pruning; planted some marigolds and impatiens; dinner with Michelle and her parents; finished reading The Best Boston Sports Arguments by Jim Caple and Stave Buckley.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

June 6, 2009 - Osprey Run, Hull, Cohasset, Scituate, Marshfield and Duxbury, Massachusetts

Several years ago I came up with an idea. After all, that was my job. I was supposed to come up with public programming that might attract folks interested in learning more about their local natural worlds. I developed the osprey run.

As public programs go, it's pretty simple. Our ospreys are on their nests at this time of year, so if we know where the nests are, we know where the birds are. And since most of the nests are on manmade platforms, we know where the nests are. As I said, it's pretty simple.

We started in Hull, at the Weir River Estuary Park, under the big windmill, Hull Wind II. I was surprised to find a mother on a nest there, as she hadn't been there last year. But there she was. She flew away from the nest, defecated, and returned - a good sign. Birds go to great lengths to keep their nests clean, and if she was flying away to do her business, she obviously felt that her nest was a pretty important place. There were most likely youngsters atop the pole.

We found a happy pair in Marshfield, at Ivy Island. Our resident monitor calls them Anthony and Cleopatra. At the Hicks Point pole in Duxbury, used for twenty years in a row, we watched a male osprey fly away with a fish, but never come back and land. Strange. Our last visit was to the pair at the Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield.

The walk to Fox Hill and the observation platform proved to be anticlimactic. The female osprey was on her nest, but not much happened. But the walk gave us a chance to reflect on the day: 51 species of birds seen, a meadow vole running across the road in front of us, a box turtle sitting in the grass, two white-tailed deer raising their ears at our approach. By the time we left the mist and clouds had disappeared and the sun had begun to shine. It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning.

Time: 164 minutes.

New species: (Reptiles) box turtle (4).

Stranger hellos: 4 (343).

What else is happening: fantastic day of writing; donated a box of books to Mass Audubon for a fundraiser; finished reading Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson by Geoffrey C. Ward; reviewed it for Amazon.com.

Friday, June 5, 2009

June 5, 2009 - Plymouth Airport, Plymouth and Carver, Massachusetts

Last year, for the first time in far too long, I visited the White Mountains in New Hampshire. I desperately want to go back, but just never seem to find the time. I will.

While I was there, leading a group of folks around the best nature viewing spots with a friend, I walked the perimeter of a local small airport. We were there toward dusk, and the mosquitoes were absolutely dreadful, but we had a few targets in mind. We got one, a saw-whet owl calling in the nearby woods, but missed another. The moose that lived nearby never made an appearance, although the locals predicted he would. Of course, the locals we talked to had been drinking pretty heavily.

Today, I had a flashback to that night. The Plymouth Airport, while in completely different habitat, with a sandy base as compared to the rich mountain soils, is, by necessity, somewhat similar to the one we walked in New Hampshire. Mostly, it's the maintenance of the landscape around the airport that is similar. The airport is a huge grassland, and the surrounding landscape is shrubland.

I'm sure that while the airport is aware of what they are doing - protecting a habitat that is rapidly vanishing in Massachusetts, as farms return to forests and skip right past the shrubby phase - they're not doing it for wildlife. If there were no pilots, there would be no need to keep the brush low around the field. It's a bit of accidental habitat preservation, and the brown thrashers, vesper sparrows and prairie warblers thank them for it.

Birders used to drive around here regularly, but the days of doing anything near an airport on a whim are long gone. Since 9/11, restrictions have changed. At first, there was no access; now, access is granted warily, but it's granted. We got our permission to walk around the airport, and spent a beautiful morning in the sun.

Time: 116 minutes.

New species: (Birds) upland sandpiper, vesper sparrow, yellow-billed cuckoo (243); (Wildflowers in Bloom) sheep laurel, white clover, hop clover, birdsfoot trefoil, mouse ear, western salsify (50).

Stranger hellos: 1 (339).

What else is going on: full day at work; post office, bank; work on the book; dinner with Michelle and my mom; received a copy of Tom Ostrom's new book The United States Coast Guard in World War II, for which I wrote the foreword; found another embedded deer tick (sigh).

June 4, 2009 - Old Main Street, Marshfield Hills, Massachusetts

I'm sure there was a time when Old Main Street was New Main Street, or more likely just plain Main Street. Marshfield is a scattered "Town of Villages," to quote a friend and coauthor, Cynthia Krusell, and the Hills was the first village that one would come to after crossing the North River from Scituate. Old Main has been usurped by Main, or the state's Route 3A.

For Marshfield Hills, that's a wonderful thing. Old Main is now a quiet back road, and perhaps because it has been bypassed for so many years, the homes here haven't been updated much. They're still old, still mostly sided with wood and still give one the feeling of community. All of the tenets of a town are here, save one. There are churches, so there's religion, and there is an old schoolhouse, so there was education. There's a general store - more on that later - and there's an old fire station (and a new one, around the corner, in the old schoolhouse). There's even one of my favorite buildings, a gathering place, the old Grand Army hall. Today, a good portion of the lifeblood of the Hills' community runs through it, the North River Arts Society headquarters.

There are side streets, including one dead end that terminates at the entrance to a protected forest. When I walked today, before 7, the roads were nearly silent, a bike rider here, a dog walker there. But the general store/post office was jumping.

And that's the way it seems it's been for a while. It's always been a fun little spot, where one can grab the Marshfield Mariner, a fresh-baked muffin, even the latest gossip (and even copies of some of my books!). But the little general store tucked away in the quiet hills now has mega star power. It was purchased by the actor Steve Carell, and he's stated he's interested in preserving it. I hope he does, and I have no reason to doubt that he will, as he has friends and family invested in the day-to-day operations of the store (walk in about fifteen feet to find the "Dunder Mifflin" table). He'll be adding longterm life to the charm of this special place on the South Shore of Boston.

Time: 58 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 2 (338).

What else is happening: full day at work; heavy work on the book that won't go away.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

June 3, 2009 - Middle of the Bridle Trail, Marshfield, Massachusetts

The day had to come, I suppose. I've been through encounters with birds and flowers and mammals and reptiles and amphibians. It only makes sense that the day would come when I would be overwhelmed with butterflies.

There were two factors at work. First, spring migration has pretty much ended, and breeding is underway for the birds of our area. That means that even if they want to sing, they've got so much stuff jammed in their bills that when they try to, it comes out muffled. For the past month, I've ben looking up. Today, I was free to let me eyes wander.

Second, today we had sunshine, and plenty of it. The butterflies are there when the clouds dominate the sky, but you rarely ever see them. Then, when the clouds part and the sunligbht shines through, they take to the air, flitting over fields, or in today's case, a dirt roadway.

The pearl crescent caught me first. It has the same colors as a monarch, but is far too small. It has small rings all over its wings that remind me of some form of Far Eastern art. Then, the red-spotted admiral appeared, black with a blue sheen at the base of its wings. Mine today had the faintest red dots just beginning to appear on the outer edges. Then came the big daddy.

The black swallowtail came at me like a small bat in its bouncing flight, so big that I thought it might be a bird at first. It circled me several times as if it was sizing me up, and then landed on a small pile of horse droppings. Lovely. It flew several more times, but always returned to the same spot. So that's where I got my picture.

I found many other beaitiful sights today - a red-bellied woodpecker feeding its little ones, which squeaked their weak little calls from their nest hole, and a sizable field of blue flag iris - but that dung-loving butterfly was still the star of the day.

Time: 55 minutes.

New species: (Butterflies) pearl crescent, red-spotted admiral, black swallowtail (14); (Wildflowers in Bloom) blue flag iris (44).

Stranger hellos: 1 (336).

What else is going on: full day at work; working on the book, of course; celebrated my third wedding anniversary by joining my wife and my son for dinner out; while there, ran into Steve, one of my best friends from elementary school through high school, whom I had not seen in more than a decade.

June 2, 2009 - Fire Station Beach, Quincy, Massachusetts

The question was a simple one. Could I provide public nature and history programming on Fire Station Beach for the citizens of Germantown?

I looked around and told Margaret and the Councillor what I thought. First, at my feet, there were shells. Shells of so many varieties. Mussels were the dominant species, but I could see razor clams, hermit crabs, even a horseshore crab, all kinds of shells. Yes, we could talk about shells.

The skyline was amazing. Hough's Neck was to the north, but then, over that, so was the Prudential Tower in Boston. In the distance was Hull, from the observation tower on Allerton Hill to the WBZ radio relay towers. Wessagussett, a section of Weymouth, was right across the Fore River. And I could see Raccoon Island. I had stories to tell about the skyline.

The beach was backed by saltmarsh. The locals used to gather the saltmarsh hay for various purposes. We could talk about that. There used to be a gunning stand out here for duck hunters - oh, the stories I could tell about coot stew. There was a farm, and even a golf course. I could certainly talk about what used to happen here.

And I counted eighteen species of birds, including a green heron, great egrets and several types of warblers. I'll bet that in migration these mudflats are teeming with shorebirds, and that in winter, ducks float on the water's surface. And I'll bet that the grasses on the water's edge are great for young fish trying to stay alive long enough to become big fish. We could talk about that.

So I answered, "Yes." I certainly can help the people of Germantown learn about this special place, and I look forward to doing so.

Time: 55 minutes.

New species: (Wildflowers in Bloom) purple loosestrife (43).

Stranger hellos: 3 (335).

What else is going on: Full day at work; more work on the book that is killing me from the inside out!

June 1, 2009 - Captain Luther Little Waye, Marshfield, Massachusetts

I love when I stumble onto something new. And I'm a master at forging new personal pathways, turning down roads I've never traveled before, getting myself lost and making myself late for appointments.

Today I did all of the above. I was in the Seaview section of Marshfield, a place with at least one bit of obvious history. At one time, back in the days when trees were mostly absent from the Marshfield landscape, when they went for homebuilding, home heating, boatbuilding or whatever, the sea, over the sandy flats of Humarock, was easily visible from this point. Today, one is lucky to have a backyard view from Seaview that might see across the South River to the Humarock peninsula, but the sea, thanks to the homes now built out on the peninsula, is visually elusive.

But that wasn't what caught my eye today. Of course, the street name itself finally grabbed me. Captain Little had it rough. At 19, he took grapeshot to the face during a naval battle and lost his ability to speak for two years. It returned enough, though, for him to woo Susanna White, a descendant of Peregrine White, into marriage.

Perhaps, then, there was some serendipity to the memorial found on the public garden circle at the end of this cul-de-sac road. The garden is dedicated to the Disabled Veterans of America, of which Captain Luther Little certainly was one, long before that organization existed. Does anybody even know thememorial's down here? Well, I do, and now you do, too.

Time: 31 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: all day working on a book project that has to finish itself off!